Hairy and hairier: Visualizing unresponded email in your mailbox

January 21st, 2008 by dario

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.

Carolin says:

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!

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9 Responses to “Hairy and hairier: Visualizing unresponded email in your mailbox”

  1. Learning As I Go : Emails as a Game of Life? Says:

    [...] Productivity has another great post, this time on the work of Carolin Horn at the Dynamic Media Institute at the Massachusetts College [...]

  2. BastienNo Gravatar Says:

    Hey, that’s funny. I first thought “unresponded” meant “unreplied emails that I’ve sent” – but it means “unprocessed [unread]“, right?

    BTW, I do agree there is a lot of useless GTD fever, but I cannot really see how this visualization toy would help you go through your inbox.

    Thinking of it again, would be cool to list “unresponded” emails… I’ll hack this for Gnus.

  3. CalNo Gravatar Says:

    I don’t know…

    I checked out the demo on the website. The problem with bugs is that they don’t convey who a message is from or what the message is about, which tend to be pretty important. (I imagine fruitlessly trying to click on skittering creatures in attempt to find that one e-mail I need).

    But I like the intent…

  4. Matthew CornellNo Gravatar Says:

    I think the program, while stimulating, is completely the wrong approach. I’m of the “empty inbox” school of thinking, which simplifies the problem. Since I empty my email once a day, I don’t need to visualize anything (except peace of mind? :-) Process each message one-by-one, moving each into the proper place – trash, actions list, archive.

  5. GiuseppeNo Gravatar Says:

    Amusing. However, the emails you should have responded to but haven’t, ought to become bigger and hairier as they get older. And the time of arrival is but one factor to take into account.
    I also like the “empty inbox” concept, but for me is more an ideal to strive for
    than an actual reality…

  6. Study Hacks » Blog Archive » Weekend Links: E-mail Bugs, Slacker Freshmen, and the Mythology Behind Good Will Hunting Says:

    [...] Hairy and hairier: Visualizing unresponded email in your mailbox | Academic Productivity The folks over at Academic Productivity feature an innovative new software solution to taming inbox chaos. It’s a little creepy for my tastes. But it’s nice to see some new ideas for tackling this growing problem. [...]

  7. Yaz OkuluNo Gravatar Says:

    does anyone knows if there is any other information about this subject in other languages?

  8. Bohol GuyNo Gravatar Says:

    Yaz : you can try to run this information though Babelfish translator, it is not perfect but it works for the most part.


  9. Memoria de Acceso Aleatorio » Enlaces: PhD Comics, Anymails, Productividad Académica, Manuales de Apple, Spotlight Says:

    [...] Academic Productivity: Correo peludo: visualización animada de correos no respondidos (tags: software mac osx macosx apple visualization visualización [...]

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