Email: The missing ingredient

Google keeps rolling out features intended to make email better and easier to use. Last summer, it was “Priority Inbox,” which pushes your most important (non-spam) emails to the top of your Gmail inbox. (Read the CNN story.)

Now it’s “Smart Labels,” which sorts your email into groups in an effort to make it easier to deal with all those e-newsletters you subscribe to, advertising you’d actually like to read, and other non-urgent, non-personal emails. (Read the CNN story.)

Unfortunately, the refinements are limited to Gmail (not Google’s fault, and other companies do offer similar functionality via add-ons). And they haven’t yet found a way to enable the sender to easily include a key bit of missing information—what kind of email is this?

People have tried various workarounds to signal the kind of email they’re sending. The most popular is including a word like “ACTION” in the subject line.

When I was a partner at Outsource Marketing in Bellevue, Washington, we took that idea a step further. We created a series of four-letter tags to use at the beginning of subject lines:

URGT: Urgent – respond or act ASAP

ACTN: Action required

UN2K: You need to know

FYIN: Read at your convenience

MTNG: Pre- or post-meeting communication

BUSN: Strategic business information

EMPY: Information for employees – benefits, job postings, HR

TRNG: Training-related communications

The four-letter tags offered unique letter combinations that were unlikely to appear in the text of any emails—so it was easy to search and sort on the tags. The problem, of course, was that they were only good inside the company. We couldn’t use them on emails that went to clients, nor did clients send any tagged email to us.

What really needs to happen is that these categories (or ones like them) become built into the email itself—perhaps in a drop-down menu similar to the one used to indicate urgency. If Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and other companies that control the email world would get on board, users could set up their own strategies to deal with the various types of emails they receive.

For corporate employees, who typically receive 550+ email messages each week (according to the Radicati Group), it would make a huge difference in being able to navigate the nonstop river of email.


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Filed under Email management, Personal productivity

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