Thursday, March 20, 2008

Email: Check for messages when?

Yup, most (if not all) email readers have a "feature" : Check for email messages every X minutes.

That's a misfeature:
  • if you check it too often (like every 10 mins), you get bugged too many times (usually you hear a sound and some message near the system tray)
  • if you check it too seldom (like, every 2-3 hours), you could find out about stuff too late; things could get worse if the email server is down exactly when you check it (happened to me a few times)
  • the program should alert you only when emails that interest you arrive (see below)
Email checking should be done every 5 minutes (this is a reasonable default, you should be able to customize it).

However, alerting you when new messages arrive, that's a completely different matter (in other words, the mail reader can check and download new messages every minute if it wants to, but it can tell me about new messages every hour).

New email messages can be split into 2 categories:
  1. message from someone you already know, related to some matter you probably know
  2. message from someone you don't know yet (so you don't yet know how you should react)
In the first case, you'll have your filters (don't you use filters? you'd better learn how to use them fast!) sort the email and put it into some folder.

In the latter case, new email will just go into the root folder, which is usually ok anyway.

Having that, here's what should happen:
  1. For certain folders, you can have an alert (when a message gets routed to a folder, play a sound).
  2. Otherwise, let the program alert you every hour or so (of new mail)
Now this is a huge advantage over what's happening today. Imagine this: you can instruct your colleagues, partners, etc. to include '[critical]' in the email subject to let you know of something that is indeed critical. Then, when something really urgent hits, you'll know in 2-3 minutes, helping you deal with it ASAP. And you know that the earlier you solve a critical issue, the less damage it does - every minute could count!

What is achievable now:
  1. there's an extension for Thunderbird: "Mailbox Alert" which can trigger an action when a new email arrives into a certain folder (the case 1 above)
  2. anyway, every hour or so, I read new mail (the case 2 above)
Well, it's as close as I could get to perfection ;)


NightBuyers said...

I haven't thought about this, until now. I have 2 accounts in my mail client and it's really bugging sometimes just having to check my email every time something new arrives, to see if it's important or not. I'll do this from now on, it totally makes sense!

John Torjo said...

@nightbuyers - he he ;) let me know how it goes ;)