Mail Usage

14 August 2006

I have noticed recently that – compared to everyone else at work, at least – I seem to organise my email completely differently to the rest of the world. Whether this is just a personality thing or influenced my my email environment over the years I don’t know.

The long and short of it is that I don’t file email. At all.

I keep everything in my inbox – bar junk mail, or course. I also never delete mail, either; I just don’t get that – why would you want to? They hardly take up much space. Anyway, this seems to be completely at odds with how the majority do it, which is to keep their inbox empty if at all possible; either filing away read items or deleting them.

Now, in a work environment I can just about understand the need for filing things in folders; but I think this behaviour stems from how older email programs worked. With Mail.app on Mac OS X 10.4 the search is brilliant – not only is it brilliant, though; it’s also reliable. The search on the latest version of Mail good, but to be honest it’s always been good – back since version 1 5 years ago – and that tallies quite nicely with when I started using email in earnest. Hence, whenever I want to find a specific email I just search for it; which takes about the same time I imagine opening a folder and scanning its contents for the correct email would take.

Contrast that history though, with users that started using email either before me, or started using a less capable email client. For them, search just isn’t seen as a viable option for finding mails (as it didn’t used to be) so filing and folders is the way it has to be.

At work I actually cheat very slightly, however, by using a wonderful Mail.app plugin called MailTags . Using this plugin, I tag every email that comes in with a set of tags that will help when I come so search for something. So, for example, if I get an email about a Thom Yorke website, I’ll tag it with “Thom Yorke” and “XL” (the label). This also exposes another weakness with the traditional filing model – you can’t have something in two folders at once.

All this tagging, though, only helps to add some context to an email that might not happen to mention its topic – a notes panel would do the trick as well, if it was searchable.

It’s got to the point now that I’ve got my routines in Mail.app to a point where I’m wishing that my whole computer worked like that; I’d really like to be able to tag files and folders easily (and it has to be really easy), and view everything organised by date – a “project” view in Finder, say, where I can see all my emails, iChats, files and folders.

Boy, that would be handy…

•••

Update: The rather wonderful Hawk Wings has picked up on this post, so there’s probably going to be some interesting tidbits in the comments.

They also link to this story – which is very interesting – on the same subject.

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