For some of us, it is already depressing enough to return from holidays. But things really get worse if you have to spend your first couple of working days in a pool of e-mails. Mind you, I’m not depressed. For now. But nobody would have objected, given the fact that I had to deal with more than 750 serious e-mails (which is of course without the spam).
Just a few years ago, I still had the guts to compose the following Out-of-Office message:
“Dear Writer. Thank you for your e-mail message. I am currently on holidays. As you will very well understand, when I am back I cannot dedicate my scarce time to filter out the few messages that are still relevant by that time. And just to make sure: I am convinced that your message would be one of them. Anyway, for my own protection and wellbeing I will automatically delete your email right now. If you still wish to reach me, you may consider resending your message once I have returned. In the meantime, I wish you strength and honour. Have a nice vacation.”
Worked perfectly fine.

In the years after, the pressure of public opinion became too much and I had to relinquish my loved, automatic rule. It may be coincidence, but that was just before the Internet Bubble collapsed.
I’m still looking for ways to deal with the E-mail Pool though, and I’m sure this pertains to the bulk of you. It makes it even more remarkable that the IT industry has made so little advances in tackling this. Sure, there are some interesting solutions in the area of e-mail response management systems (see Siebel, RightNow Technologies and Kana for example) but they are yet focused on service and marketing centres.
Why not use some of this fancy natural language processing, automatic routing and self-calibrating agent technology to ease the life of millions of e-mail haunted office workers and truly boost their individual productivity? We have excellent anti-spam plug-ins for Outlook and Thunderbird that can recognise and catch many different types of unwanted email. And they get better by the day. So where are the plug-ins that can analyse serious incoming e-mail and the way they are handled by an individual, categorise and prioritise them and then can process 70% of the routine actions (forwarding, archiving, replying, scheduling, planning tasks) automatically?
I would call that a Killer App. And given the fact that many Killer Apps are born in the Open Source community, I did a quick search on SourceForge, just to get a feeling of the Zeitgeist around e-mail management. There’s not much yet, although MailManager looks like a promising project with an active developer group. Makes you wonder why we haven’t picked up the opportunity yet to come to the rescue of so many affected professionals. After all, it’s The IT People that brought you e-mail in the first place.
Where’s the IT industry? What is cooking in the remote labs of IBM, Microsoft and Oracle? And what’s keeping up the Open Source community? We’re anxious for your suggestions.
Just don’t e-mail them.