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Electronic mail in a working context
KTH, Superseded Departments, Numerical Analysis and Computer Science, NADA.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5626-1187
1998 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other scientific)
Abstract [en]

Electronic mail, email, is one of the most widespread computer applications today.While email in general is very popular among its users, there are also drawbacks withemail usage: an increasing amount of messages that overwhelm users, systems that aretoo complex for naive users and at the same time do not support the needs of experiencedusers.In order to answer the main research question “Which design solutions couldimprove the situation of individual email users in a working context when it comes tocommunication and handling large numbers of incoming and stored email messages?”three studies conducted in email users’ working environment are described. The studiedorganisations are one academic research laboratory, one technical company, andone primary medical service organisation. The studies are focused on email usage,organisation of email messages, novice versus experienced users’ needs, managers’email usage, and information and communication overflow.The results indicate that the different strategies used to handle email are a matter ofa balance between advantages and disadvantages of these strategies. The choicebetween them is depending on the users’ total work situation and cannot be understoodby investigating the email communication alone.One advantage of email is the cognitive comfort it brings to its users by liberatingthem from thinking about tasks that can be solved by sending an email message, butthis advantage disappears when the sender cannot trust that the receiver will act uponthe message.Users develop their handling of email with experience and work position. Themedia that managers use to handle the increased communication that follows with ahigher position are email and meetings. One habit that do not change with position isto allow incoming messages to interrupt other work tasks, despite the asynchronousnature of email. This is particularly remarkable for managers who often complain thatthey need more uninterrupted time. The interruptions may partly be attributed to thelack of functionality in email systems to adapt the interfaces to the users’ work habits.In this case incoming messages result in a signal regardless the importance of them.Email is a part of an information and communication flow. Some users have problemshandling this flow. Overflow problems could be diminished by making senders ofmessages more aware of the receivers’ communicative situation. Email systems couldprovide feedback to senders of messages based on the receivers’ perception of his/hersituation.One of the studies indicates that it may be even more complicated to replace an oldemail system than introducing an email system for the first time in an organisation.The investment experienced users have made in the old system may be substantial.A model of time usage for organisation of email messages is also presented in orderto compare different strategies.Several design solutions are suggested with respect to folder usage, sorting emailmessages into folders, reducing the number of stored messages, and tailoring the emailsystem to the user’s work habits.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH , 1998. , 234 p.
Trita-NA, ISSN 0348-2952 ; 9820
Keyword [en]
electronic mail, user studies, interface design, field studies, information filtering, human information processing, non-technical users, managers, archiving, information retrieval.
National Category
Computer Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-2739ISBN: 91-7170-345-4OAI: diva2:8449
Public defence
1998-12-17, 00:00 (English)
QC 20100524Available from: 2000-01-01 Created: 2000-01-01 Last updated: 2010-05-24Bibliographically approved

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