Are you Serios?

I have just read “Addressing Information Overload in Corporate Email: The Economics of User Attention”, a white paper by The Radicati Group. Their motivation makes a lot of sense: we receive a lot of email these days, and there is not way to quickly tell the wheat from the chaff in your inbox. The “urgent” or “low priority” flags are often overused or not used at all, so they means little. And even for those who use them consistently, they only give you three levels of importance.

Once you remove all the marketing babble, what these guys propose a continuous scale to grade the importance of an email. The sender states how important an email is in a scale from 0 (zero) to potentially infinite, and the sender sees it when she received the email. It’s easy to sort your inbox on the importance column and prioritise emails with higher importance values.

I know, I know. There is the issue that email importance is modelled as a currency. Every time you compose a new email and state how important it is (using an importanceĀ unit called Serios), your “balance” is reduced accordingly. For example, if I send an email valued in 20 Serios, my Serios balance is reduced by 20. Since my balance is finite, I must think twice before allocating very high importance values to an email.

All this is good. However, I think that these guys are missing a point. If the motivation of the whole thing is how busy we are, don’t you think that adding more decisions to our day will make us even busier?

Yes. Imagine having to decide, for every single email that you compose, how many Serios it is worth. You need to take into account your balance, assess the attention history of each of the recipients, and assign a Serios value according to the amount of attention that you want to receive for this particular email. Many people I know, if presented with such a system, would end up agreeing (tacitly, maybe) on using a fixed Serios rate of, say, 20 for every email, and thus avoiding the need of making that decision. That, of course, would destroy the idea of Seriosity, the company behind all this.

Are we really willing to invest some time now to, maybe, get attention from others and, potentially, save some time later?

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2 Responses to “Are you Serios?”


  1. 1 Marsha Egan 28 January 2009 at 16:38

    We are trying to save time, not add more processes. While the concept of Serios is intriguing, the judgment is left in the hands of the sender, not the receiver. And if you send 100 e-mails a day, how much extra time will you be adding collectively while determining Serios?

  2. 2 cesargon 28 January 2009 at 17:33

    Marsha, I understand that the goal of Serios is precisely that: saving time. However (and this is a personal judgment rather than a contrasted assessment), I have no idea of how many Serios I should be allocating to each individual email I write. I have performed the thought experiment of composing an email and then, right before I hit “Send”, having to decide how many Serios I attach to it. Most often, I don’t know how many. I feel I lock up because I need to make that decision, and I am not happy feeling locked up by that need at that point, when my email is erady to be sent.

    I tend to think that it’s the responsibility of the recipient, rather than the sender, to look after his/her priorities and keep up with his/her inbox. If they are swamped by their email, it’s just unfair to address that issue by placing one more task on the shoulders of the sender.


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