If you feel like you do not give your e-mail inbox enough attention, you are not alone. A new study shows that the majority of e-mail users are unable to keep up with the pace of messages when their inboxes get overloaded. The results came from a study to determine how easy it would be to predict users’ e-mail behavior based on a variety of factors.
The study done by researchers at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona and the University of Southern California, analyzed the behavior of more than 2 million users exchanging 16 billion separate e-mails over a number of months. It was the largest single study of e-mail behavior to date.
Unable To Keep Up
One of the key findings of the paper, titled “Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload,” was that users were actually able to maintain the number of e-mails they responded to, even when they were being overloaded with e-mails. In some cases, they even increased the number of e-mails they were able to respond to as their inboxes grew more crowded.
However, even in cases where users improved on their response times, they were unable to do so to at a degree sufficient to keep up with the increase in e-mail traffic, leading to an overall decline in response rates.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
A number of demographic factors played a role in determining users’ levels of responsiveness. Older users generally replied to a smaller fraction of incoming e-mails, but their reply times and lengths of their e-mails were not impacted by overload as much as younger users. In contrast, younger users replied faster, but with shorter replies and to a higher fraction of e-mails. Across all groups, however, the study found that e-mail overload had an adverse effect on users.
Meanwhile, men were found to send slightly faster and shorter replies than women. In addition to demographics, other factors also influenced user behavior. Replies from mobile devices were faster and shorter than from desktops. The presence of an attachment had a very strong effect on response time, nearly doubling the amount of time for an average reply. Circadian rhythms also seemed to play a role, with response times varying with the time of day.
Using those factors, the researchers found they were able to improve the accuracy with which they could predict a user’s reply time as well as the length of a user’s reply. The results were significant, and could be used to help develop e-mail clients that are more responsive to user behavior, and which are able to better classify and rank e-mail priority, according to the study's authors.