The Shape Email is In

Email has become the principal means of business communication, and has largely displaced most previous technologies for personal  communication.  Yet we have remarkably little information on how people use it.  This means that those of us in the email business are trying to improve something that none of us fully understand.  It's little wonder that email innovation has slowed in recent years!

"Oh, you don't know the shape I'm in." -- Robbie Robertson, The Band

This week Mimecast is launching a long term series of studies called "The Shape of Email."  The goal is simple to state and difficult to achieve:  we want to deepen our collective understanding of how people use email.

Attempts to understand email use have previously come in two flavors:  deep, serious academic studies, and wild overgeneralizations from a few convenient data points.  The former are so difficult and time consuming that they don't produce enough data, while the latter are too speculative to be generally believed.

We're looking for a third approach, a Middle Way.  We think there's a fair amount of information to be gleaned from somewhat less rigorous surveys, as long as they have a significant sample size and aren't extremely biased.  No single such survey can be viewed as the whole truth, but we hope that collecting enough of them might prove genuinely enlightening.

My friends in academia will, correctly, rail about sampling error, statistical signficance, and other methodological flaws with this approach.  But we're not claiming to be producing that kind of data.  We are, however, hoping that combining enough imperfect studies will give us a hint of the truth.

Towards that end, we're hoping to collect as much data as we can, and see if some larger truths emerge from the collision of diverse imperfection.  I'm guardedly optimistic that the errors won't be systemic, but will tend to cancel each other out. We're releasing one such study now, a tiny first step.  If you know of any email usage studies that are interesting but not suitable for scientific peer review, we'd love to hear about them; we promise to share any conclusions or hypotheses we come up with.