According to a study by research firm Basex recently covered by the New York Times, information overload will be the Problem of the Year in 2008, costing US companies up to $650 billion a year. The figure is supposed to be an estimate of the cost of unnecessary interruptions in terms of “decreased productivity and stifled innovation”. Recipes to fight email overload, in particular, have become a thriving business over the last few years: how to cope with the stress and lack of productivity caused by an ever-growing volume of email in your inbox?
While self-proclaimed gurus are selling on the Web their own ultimate solutions against email overload, Carolin Horn from DMI Boston has designed a clever visualization tool to represent unresponded email in your inbox. I find this idea way more effective than a million GTD techniques and I think Carolin and her coder collaborator Florian Jenett are onto something.
Anymails is a visualization of my received emails.
I have investigated how I can use natural metaphors to visualize my inbox, its structure and attributes. The metaphor of microbes is used.
Different categories of email (family, work, university, spam) are represented by different species of microbes. The more recent and urgent an email is, the hairier and faster the corresponding microbe.
With Anymails, your inbox becomes the playground for a swarm of squirming creatures, which you can filter, arrange and group at your convenience. You can even travel back to a time when your mailbox was a nice place inhabited by tame, hairless and well-behaved email messages.
The Anymails prototype is built in Flash and Processing and retrieves email from the user local Apple Mail database. Anymails is available for download (with source included!) from Carolin’s website. I haven’t tested it myself on my local email database (I probably don’t dare see what creatures lurk inside) and a few disclaimers warn that this should not be considered more than a prototype, but Carolin’s videos illustrate the functionality of this great experiment in information visualization. Good job, Carolin and Florian!