Categorising my personal emails

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Mail - EnvelopesI receive, I would estimate, about 35 non-work related more or less ‘old fashioned’ messages a day via the multiple communications services to which I am subscribed: hotmail, gmail, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. When taken alongside the 100+ mails received daily at work, I would say that such a volume is basically average for a professional. A few folks I know in the high tech industry (e.g. at Google or Facebook) suffer numbers more like 250+.

A couple of comments here. First, the volume of these non-work mails is wholly manageable, if it were not for the time I like to take to reply to as many as I do. Secondly, the communications on Facebook remain surprisingly personal and, if not personal, opted in (via a membership in a group, etc., that I have chosen). Whether it’s a poke, some shared application or just a Facebook mail, the sender of the mail is someone with whom I accepted to be in contact, and by and large, there is a form of respect that seems to have settled in. And, whether the message is short and sharp or long and detailed, it is a message I typically enjoy opening. Thirdly, my regular post mail has been on the decline (thankfully we are not on any wasteful mailing lists). Having opted in for electronic versions for as many statements and bills as possible, the volume of CO2-related mail has dropped considerably.

On another level, when I take a step back and evaluate these 35 non-work communications, I feel like they fall into four categories.

Turtle Love - Making Love in a Garden(1) There are the sole-destination personal messages coming from people in and out of my life, dotted around the world. (2) There are the humourous messages, jokes of one or other colour (and often accompanied by cartoons or photos). Then, (3) there are the meaningful messages, for example, compassionate mails that spread humanitarian messages or soulful powerpoint slides shows (.pps). These last two categories of messages, which are more or less revisited “chain letters,” are collected and passed along to you as part of a group, selected perhaps for a specific or common value, but otherwise just part of a “forward to” group. Have you noticed that both the humourous and meaningful messages often contain a visual component? And, (4) finally of course, there is the beloved spam, spam, spam, eggs & spam and its small cousin Opted-in Newsletters/Mailings that get through the spam filter.

Based on this classification, I have to say that I understand why I enjoy my early morning hours delving into my message boxes. Three of the four categories are bound to be enjoyable. Whether humourous or “meaningful” — when added to the personal — the vast majority of the mails I receive are in fact laden with some emotion, although the jokes category can sometimes be a little irksome. Who is to say that the virtual is by definition cold and impersonal. Nonsense! There is a warm and fuzzy world out there!

One of the key lessons is in how you “train” or manage your contacts and the messages you send and receive. If you like the jokes from someone, then by all means, reply back and join in the foray. If you don’t like them, you can ask the person not to be sent jokes in the future. Alternatively, according to the sender, you can just delete them as they arrive.

What it comes down to, in my mind, is that along with My MSN and netvibes, my worldwide web interface is actually becoming ever more personalized. Social media is feeling like personal media. The jokes bring good cheer. The meaningful messages bring sense and/or purpose. The early morning (when I tend to my personal mails) becomes a moment of virtual emotion and reflection. And I have ever less tolerance for mail that is not on target or on message. This leads me to the question of how brands will truly insert themselves into my world without offending my karma and/or busting my bubble?

On a related topic, I enjoyed this post by Mitch Joel entitled “Intimacy 2.0“. What is true about the post I have done today is that I have relegated the content to largely 1.0 type communications: the email. But, just like letters of yore, each communication has its place and the “old fashioned” one-to-one communication in emails has its place and affords the opportunity for deeper conversations than might otherwise occur in a public domain. It is meet and right that the scale of intimacy in the communications should go from light and fluffy to profound and pensive. The essential point is being ready and able to join in those conversations, to take the time to write back to the people who mean something to you, to participate and engage in the subjects that are important to you. And, returning to the point of how brands are going to “engage” in these conversations, I can anticipate that new marketers in the future should be vetted for their online presence and ability to participate in online conversations. Your presence online will indeed become your best CV.

All in all, aside from the personal mail that somehow gets mistakenly caught up in the spam filter (which is almost as irritating as seeing a spare parking space in front of your doorstep after you circled for too long and parked very far away), my morning’s experience on the computer is generally a moment of bonheur.

How about your experience? Do you agree with the categories? How can brands “interrupt” this tranquil, personal moment?

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