I hate you for e-mailing me

I was perusing PlanetLotus today and an interesting blog post from Vaughan Rivett caught my eye – what’s the worst email in-box that you have ever seen? Vaughan tells the tale of a user with a mail box weighing in at 11 gigabytes. This is what’s known in the trade as either a) hoarding or b) bad management. Mail boxes of that size could never be tolerated at IBM, because like so many companies we impose a mail quota – your mail box gets to a certain size, some things stop working, and the functionality isn’t given back to you until you’ve fixed the problem. But is that fair? After all, was it the mail box owner at fault?

I’m speaking as someone who recently had to concede that, after more than 10 years with a 150 mb mail box quota, I could no longer keep it within the limit every day – I was spending too much time managing the volume, so I had to apply to go up to the next level, 250 mb. Why, in an organisation with a rich collaborative infrastructure, was this necessary? I put it down purely to my change in role – suddenly I was communicating with many more people and there was an increase in data flying around. It reminded me of a slide I sometimes use on less serious occasions, such as the recent keynote at Collaboration University. Entitled ‘about me as an e-mail user’ it explains that I don’t like having a scroll bar in my inbox and I resent anyone who…

  • Forces me over my mail quota
  • Sends me two e-mails when only one was required
  • Marks everything they send as high priority (yes, I know who you are)
  • Starts an e-mail with “I know you’re busy but…” – but what?
  • Sends me an e-mail and then immediately Sametimes me or phones me to ask if I’ve read the e-mail
  • Continues to reply-to-all way past the point where I’ve ceased to be involved or interested
  • Only knows how to use PrtSc rather than Alt-PrtSc

So in summary, just about anyone who sends me an e-mail.

A couple of years ago I did a small survey of some of our customers, not big enough or detailed enough to draw any great conclusions from, and asked the question…

In terms of e-mail efficiency what would benefit your organisation the most – improvement in user practises around e-mail, or operational improvements?

71% said user practises, 29% said both, but no-one (0%) said operational improvements alone. So the conclusion is that end users need to be given the tools in order to become more efficient with how they disseminate information, but they also need some clarity about the right tools to use and when.

I believe that we’ve added the right things to the Lotus portfolio to help end users to realise better collaboration and knowledge management – simple things that make a difference. Firstly, think how your typical e-mail user would share a spreadsheet, document or presentation with a colleague (or group)… we all know the right thing to do is to post it to a collaborative space (which hopefully supports the business activity associated with the content) and then notify people of the content via e-mail. However, most e-mail users have escaped from Utopia via a small hole in the fence, so they’re just going to shove that file attachment in the e-mail regardless of the storage or content revision issues.

Quickr dealing with attachmentsThat’s why I love the Quickr approach – because it supports the users’ long-ingrained behaviour (shove in the attachment) but at the point of sending it offers to place the file in a document repository. The recipient sees a set of links, and they click to navigate to the content. Simple. So collaboratively we’re doing the right thing, but we haven’t interrupted the user’s normal pattern of work (in my head I’m picturing people grunting like Cro Magnon man did when he spotted a bison wandering across the Paleolithic plains, but instead they’re saying “ugg, file attachment”). The added bonus with Quickr is that you can also take existing file attachments that Cro Magnon man sent to you in the past and offload them to a Quickr place – you can retain the e-mail with the link replacing the attachment.

The other thing I love telling people about is Connections Files. To fully embrace the idea of Connections Files you do have to discard the caveman instincts and post that file… no, not in an e-mail, in your Connections file-space. Yes, I know this goes against years of bad habits, so the important thing is for users to realise the benefits. The first benefit is to other people – you are not contributing to ruining their day by sending that quota-busting spreadsheet. Okay, so you don’t care about their quota, how about a benefit for yourself? Have you ever sent an e-mail with a file attachment and then later someone else wants the file? And then someone else a bit later? This used to happen to me all of the time, but not any more. Rather than having to repeat the process of create another e-mail, type in the subject, find the file attachment in a folder (hmmm, which folder), add an explanation – I just share the file. The file in question is posted in Connections Files and I add another name to the share list. An e-mail is automatically sent, and the recipient grabs the content but doesn’t have to worry about the volume of data. If the file is updated, I simply add the update as a new version and note the changes.

Connections Files

Another great way to share content, in the context of a business activity, is Lotus Connections Activities, but I’ve already covered that in an earlier post.


  1. Thanks for reading my blog and for the insightful comments on yours. I typically use google as a guide for mail box quotas. They are just over 1Gb for a free mail account.

    If the restrictions are too tight, then the business risks loosing valuable information by users who are a bit trigger happy with that delete key. I is not about deletion, but it is about better management.

  2. Email quotas are stupid. Drive space is cheap. Human time is expensive. Your servers should do the job of cleaning up 11GB mail databases, not your users. If you’re going to make humans do the work of computers, you deserve to get outsourced to Google.

  3. Interesting comments – I guess I was aiming for two thoughts. The first was that quotas cause people to focus on reducing the size of their mail box, not on their work… and in the end the recipient is the one who suffers because other people send big attachments and knock their victim over quota. The combination of the two is deadly.

    The second was that there are better ways of sharing content, whether in an activity or a team place – whatever, the content always sits better with something that supports the business activity or process that the content is part of, so it’s in the right context. And the co-ordination of the content often works better.

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