July 13, 2009

Oops! - Microsoft's New Feature Guaranteed to Lose Important E-Mail

Greetings. The bright boys at Microsoft have come up with a new feature for Office 2010 that -- from the description I've seen of this aspect so far -- seems guaranteed to turn some Outlook users into the e-mail equivalent of black holes.

Essentially, it sounds simple enough. Provide the ability to instantly delete all messages associated with an e-mail thread in which you're a CC member -- including all future messages from the conversation.

Some reviewers, presumably of the more anal personality type, are lauding this feature as the best development since sliced bread. They suggest it's more efficient and polite than asking to be taken off a CC list.

The problems of course should be obvious to almost any e-mail user who stops to think about it for a bit.

I don't know whether this MS mechanism uses Subject lines, References lines, or some combination of both to make its thread determinations, but I do know this: E-mail Subjects Drift!

We've all experienced this -- I've been noting it for decades. Because most people are lax about updating Subject lines as a discussion evolves and rely on the "reply" command, single e-mail threads can quickly diverge in unexpected (and often extreme) ways with Subject lines that no longer represent the actual topic of discussion.

So with Microsoft's new feature, you run the significant risk of cutting yourself off from a discussion that has moved in a direction that you would want or need to be reading. Even worse, the other members of the CC list will continue to see you listed on all of the messages (the "ignore" feature, at least from what I've heard so far, doesn't provide any notification to other recipients or the message author that you've activated the deletion feature for future messages). So they'll all quite reasonably assume that you're up to date on the continuing discussion.

And given the habit that many people have of starting a brand new discussion with an existing CC group by replying to an old message thread (and often failing to update the Subject line in the process) the risks of such an auto-delete system seem even more stark.

One can argue that e-mail users shouldn't be so "sloppy" in their mail handling procedures. But that assertion plus $1 will buy you a cup of cheap coffee, and not much else of value. People are people.

Overall, it seems certain that Microsoft's new concept in proactive e-mail deletion will result in vast numbers of lost important messages, misunderstandings, confusion, and maybe worse.

Microsoft needs to reconsider the human engineering aspects of this new Office functionality. It certainly appears that they didn't think very long about the serious negative implications up to now.


Blog Update: More on Microsoft's "Lose Mail" Feature - and How Google Handled the Issue Correctly

Posted by Lauren at July 13, 2009 08:06 AM | Permalink
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