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Folders vs. Tags For Shared Email Accounts?

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the complexity-starts-small dept.

Communications 148

binarybum writes "I run a student organization with a 10-member 'board of directors.' We hardly ever all have time to attend meetings and a large part of how we interact with the student body is through email. We have a shared email account (accessible by the 10 of us on the board) right now that is typically accessed through an outlook web-access portal. We've been attempting to keep things organized in the account through a complex collection of folders that have been tacked on ad libum. It's turned into a complete mess. I have the onerous task of restructuring the folder system in hopes of achieving sustainable organization, but I'm wondering if I should just switch us over to a tagging system — perhaps Gmail. Has anyone used tags for a multi-user account successfully or does it end up being just as messy?"

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Go with tags (4, Interesting)

Cesium12 (1065628) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285602)

Emails and files tend not to fall into neat hierarchical structures. If you have a large number of possibly intersecting groups, you're going to need a large number of subfolders, and tags are much better.

Re:Go with tags (4, Insightful)

nacturation (646836) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285630)

Use both. Problem solved.

Re:Go with tags (5, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286142)

It would make more sense to create a mailing list, and have emails sent to the list forwarded to all ten members. Then they could administer their folders as they see fit.

With 10 people on one email account, it's hardly surprising that it turned into a clusterfuck.

Re: Go with a mailing list (2, Interesting)

nick_urbanik (534101) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286424)

It would make more sense to create a mailing list, and have emails sent to the list forwarded to all ten members. Then they could administer their folders as they see fit.

With 10 people on one email account, it's hardly surprising that it turned into a clusterfuck.

Hear, hear!

Corporate emails at my work consist of endless top-posting after re-top-posting that must be read from the bottom to the top to make any sense of the mess. In the process, I need to skip over multiple re-inclusions of the same email, and not get annoyed that the entire mess mostly consists of disclaimers. LookOut seems to strongly encourage this technique of mis-communication.

"What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant disclaimer."
"What is the disclaimer standing on?"
"But it's disclaimers all the way down!" (sorry Stephen Hawking.)

Re: Go with a mailing list (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286470)

Um, LookOut is a search addon for Outlook. Are you blaming all that miscommunication on one of the two decent search addons?

Re: LookOut (2, Informative)

nick_urbanik (534101) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286488)

LookOut is what you do when you use OutLook.

Re:Go with tags (1)

bpsbr_ernie (1121681) | more than 6 years ago | (#23287342)

Thats exactly what I do. We have a mailing list for Board members, Officers and Volunteers. It allows them to chat and discuss topics and lets them organize (or delete) items they no longer want. The mailing list also archives them, should anyone need to go back and review the history or find something they accidentally deleted.

Re:Go with tags (1)

bigdavesmith (928732) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286346)

All 10 of them use the same email account? The problem is far from solved... This is strait out of WTF.

Re:Go with tags (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286544)

Use both. Problem solved.
That's the winner, right there.

With all the organizational emphasis these days placed on "teams" (a term that makes me a little sick), you'd think that making a simple mailing list would be the most obvious choice, as ShieldW0lf points out.

Better yet (at least for me) is the old bulletin board model. Even with most mailing lists, I find myself ignoring a lot of the incoming messages, mostly because most of them aren't important to me.

With a simple forum-style bulletin board, I can zero in on what's important, what's recent, what's meant for me, and what the most important members of the "team" have written.

I find I am still the most reliable navigator of the incoming information flow in most organizations, and certainly in a group of 10.

Re:Go with tags (4, Insightful)

djinnn (1064652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285722)

I tend to agree: using tags, you're not limited to disjoint sets.
Intersections are quite common in real life, and designing the perfect category tree is not easy nor fast. Even when you succeed, you're always running the risk of being confronted with a new item that doesn't fit in your tree, or would need a complete tree redesign to fit in well (see biology).

However, tag systems usually are "all-flat" (Gmail is anyway): there is no notion of sub-category.
If you're going to have dozens of tags, this is going to be messy too...

Re:Go with tags (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285800)

Tagging still requires everybody to have a consistent ontology (i.e. to want to use the same set of labels, and to interpret them consistently) which in practice they won't. I would choose something with a good search facility instead. Throw it all in a huge pile and just search it later.

(Actually I agree with other posters who say this is just a normal application for an email list, let people do whatever they want, but the OP ruled that out?)

Re:Go with tags (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285960)

Yeah, but the ontology problem is going to apply to any system. Searching may be the way to go, but tagging is also quite effective, and the combination of the two is probably the best without making send out to ten private accounts in a small list of sorts.

Lucky Gmail combines tags with great searching, and it sounds like it's already on the table. The good thing with tagging is that since it's not stuck to a single folder, duplicate tags (if you will) aren't going to clog things up too badly or throw off someone else's system - unless a term means two different things to two different people, in which case you really do have to split it into multiple inboxes.

Re:Go with tags (5, Interesting)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286282)

I agree with you in theory,but trying to get ten people who rarely meet to agree to the meaning of the different tags AND get them all to apply it consistently would in all likelihood be a royal PITA.

My suggestion(which is what worked for me collaborating on my capstone project) is that each person gets a single folder with their name on it.And then tags will be used in the central workspace for any projects and also each individual is allowed to tag the emails in his/her own folder as they wish. This gives everyone their own workspace and allows them to organize that workspace how they like,while at the same time giving all a central workspace for ongoing collaborative projects. This also cuts down on arguing about layout as everyone gets their own little niche to set up as they please and you only have to get them to agree to a few common tags for the common workspace. Our common tags were IIRC "things we would like to have" ,"things we HAVE to have","status reports",and "need help".

Anyway our system really helped us to get a handle on things while allowing each individual to organize his personal area to what suited him best. Oh,and when you have meetings a similar approach works well in real life. We had our area set up in a Round Robin configuration which allowed those of us with laptops to easily share them with the two that didn't while zinging ideas off each other and at the same time giving us a central area where one of us could go and stand when he wanted to present an idea to the group while having their undivided attention. But I guess it would all depend on your group dynamics so YMMV.

Re:Go with tags (2, Informative)

tom's a-cold (253195) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286150)

Throw it all in a huge pile and just search it later.
Based on having done it a number of times before, I disagree. Free-text search gives poor result relevancy compared to search that's aware of metadata. So use tags, AND also invest in a decent search tool.

And it's worth spending some time coming up with an initial set of tags. That, by the way, is taxonomy not ontology. Ontology is about modeling a wider range of relationships than the "is-a"/"has-a" that taxonomy covers.

If the users want to add more tags, that's fine. Closed-ended taxonomies are seldom worth a hit. Unless you're a good-sized enterprise, don't waste time trying to impose a taxonomy on your users. It's costly and requires a lot of process discipline to do right.

Multi-rooted hierarchical tagging works best-- but a "flat" scheme isn't bad either.

Oh, and it's a trivial exercise to create a virtual-folder view based on tags. You can implement it either from a central repository of metadata or by carrying the metadata on the individual mail messages.

Regardless, using folders without tags is generally a lousy solution. Look at all the different and generally piss-poor ways that people organize information on their desktops for an idea of how well that usually works.

Re:Go with tags (2, Informative)

Zhiroc (909773) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286074)

When accessing GMail via IMAP, it emulates folders by interpreting a '/' in the tag as the "directory separator". It gives you the flexibility of tags with the organization of folders, if you want it. However, the web interface doesn't do this. And, of course, it doesn't solve the problems others mention with consistent use.

why sare? (4, Insightful)

woodchip (611770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285614)

Why don't you just send a copy of every email sent to that address to each of the 10 members individuals addresses, and let each of them sort it anyway they want.

Re:why sare? (4, Insightful)

hyfe (641811) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285710)

Why don't you just send a copy of every email sent to that address to each of the 10 members individuals addresses, and let each of them sort it anyway they want.
That only works well under the presumption that everyone's able/bothered to work out their own filtering system... and that's one heck of a presumption :)

If you're going to use tags, since you're a small group you're pretty much going to have to limit yourself to a set predefined ones.. and then the only difference between tags and folders is that a document can only have one folder, but several tags. If you're only 10 people I doubt you really need that finegrained a control, so folders should work just as well as tags.

That said, what this essentially boils down to is the general answer to next to every bloody architectural question out there is; it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you do it well. Seriously, what solution you choose is next to never important, it's how well you use that solution that matters.

Re:why sare? (1)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285788)

In that case it seems to me that email is the wrong solution anyway.

Re:why sare? (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285824)

I agree that use of the system is paramount, but to put a finer point on it, all users should agree what tags should be used. For example: If you have a '2008race' tag and an 'Election2008' tag it gets messy quickly.

Should such email data be tagged 'politics' or 'election' or 'RonPaul' or something entirely different.

When you alone are using the tagging it is easy to remember what tags are for what. If you share it, you should also share a hierarchy of tag name/use conventions. Without it, you are just lost and so will be the other users. Without a guide, freeform filing just becomes a mess.

Re:why sare? (1)

pipatron (966506) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286048)

For example: If you have a '2008race' tag and an 'Election2008' tag it gets messy quickly.

When this is discovered, the incorrect tag will be deleted, the message will be tagged with the correct one, and the person who used a completely new tag when there was one suitable would be flogged. Just as if someone puts a message in the wrong folder.

Should such email data be tagged 'politics' or 'election' or 'RonPaul' or something entirely different.

It should be tagged 'politics' if it has to do with politics, in this case yes. It should be tagged 'election' if it has to do with an election, so again, yes. It should be tagged 'RonPaul' if it has to do with Ron Paul, so who knows.

With tags it's not a question of just using one, but rather apply the tags that are relevant. Then if you want to find everything about ron paul, you select the ron paul tag. If you want to narrow it down to just elections, you also select the election tag.

Re:why sare? (1)

Kelbear (870538) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285856)

That's the method we use. It's a presumption, but being able to organize your own affairs is a basic prerequisite for a wide expanse of roles. If they can't sort out their own stuff, how can you expect them to assist in sorting anything else out? It's pretty reasonable to expect them to be able to keep track of their own sorting system, and not reasonable to expect them to find things as quickly when someone else has done all the sorting first and they now need to find where the e-mails went.

For us, e-mails go to a single address which represents all of us in our department. We sort it in a way that we can find our own e-mails. We all have our own copy, and use our own computer, so how we find our e-mails is up to us. What works for each of us is what we use. If they can't find their own e-mails then they should leverage their own organizational skills accordingly in a manner suited to their particular function.

Making both folders, tagging, and search available would be best, and how it goes from there is best left up to the individual who'll be looking for their own e-mail.

Lazy versus incompetent (4, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286510)

That only works well under the presumption that everyone's able/bothered to work out their own filtering system...
I don't buy the "able" argument personally. That's just laziness to my mind. Which leaves "bothered" in your terminology. If someone can't be bothered to organize their own account I find it highly unlikely they will be bothered in a joint account.

Personally I think joint accounts are normally a terrible idea. They are extremely difficult to maintain since (supposedly) everyone is responsible. In my experience if everyone is supposed to be responsible then in reality no one is actually responsible. Tragedy of the commons [] applies here. Everyone trusts someone else will deal with it and it becomes a big old mess.

Re:why sare? (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 6 years ago | (#23287592)

Why don't you just send a copy of every email sent to that address to each of the 10 members individuals addresses, and let each of them sort it anyway they want.
That only works well under the presumption that everyone's able/bothered to work out their own filtering system... and that's one heck of a presumption :)

Correction: That only works well if you accept that people are capable of being moderately competent at their job.

This is a textbook example of someone trying to use a technical answer to replace (not improve) a human process. Unless the members of the group are going to actively use a consistent and mutually comprehensible process, no amount of tagging or arbitrary organisational measures is going to work. And in any group of 5 or more people, that's a lot to ask.

The solution: Set a few basic expectations about job performance, make sure they're enforced, and let people achieve those expectations in the way that suits them best.

Mailing lists or mail forwarding to individual accounts works just fine. If that doesn't have a satisfactory result, then you've got other fish to fry. No amount of technology will make people cooperate if they're not already inclined to do so.

Re:why sare? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285836)

I was about to say -- turn that email account into a list-serve which does the forwarding to individuals. It has been years since I have managed a list serve, but you should be able to set up one that is by invitation only (for board business) and a second for general access.

Just a thought.

Re:why sare? (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286126)

Why? Because that would be the sensible approach, rather than the technological approach. A slashdotter will always prefer technology over common sense. You must be new here.

Re:why sare? (1)

crispin_bollocks (1144567) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286148)

Sounds like I'd have an equal chance of receiving no reply or 10 different replies. Why not use some sort of CRM instead of just webmail?

Forward to individual accounts (3, Informative)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285628)

The only way it's going to work well is if no one uses the group account directly, but rather all of the email it receives is forwarded to the individual accounts of the members. Then each member can organize the mail however he or she sees fit.

Does any linux mail client work like gmail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285984)

Is there a mail client for Linux that filters mail the same way as gmail does?
I would like to be able to add several tags to the same mail, but there should be only one folder.
I would like to be able to search through my mail for a text-string.
These searches should be as fast as gmail and scale well for with lots of mails.

Somewhat the same situation here (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285638)

I'm in the board of a student organisation as well, together with 6 other people. We all have our own e-mail account and one catch-all account. The abactis is in charge of all mail (snail and e) and has her own computer with all of the e-mail accounts via IMAP open. There she can drag and drop e-mail and keep a look at all mail.

Use a group (5, Informative)

rmcd (53236) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285644)

This sounds like an ideal application for a Google or Yahoo groups account. You would have a private group for the board. All of the e-mail would be available in a central location, with individual messages accessible by search, and each board member could forward each mail to their own personal account or not, as they see fit.

Re:Use a group (2, Interesting)

Macblaster (94623) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285936)

I completely agree. We established a Google Group for the board I am on, and find it is ideal. Collaberative documents can be shared using Google Docs, we can post other important files to the group page as well, etc. If anything, it means that we can just email the group's email list, instead of having to CC all members for every important conversation.

Re:Use a group (1)

TorKlingberg (599697) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285958)

Not really. Those services are for discussion inside a group, not for handling emails from outside.

Re:Use a group (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286526)

Those services are for discussion inside a group, not for handling emails from outside.
So set up an email account to forward to the group. Problem solved. A Google Group (or similar - not recommending a specific one) would be a MUCH better solution than a joint email account for almost any application I can think of unless there is some pretty serious security issues involved.

Link one email address to several accounts (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285648)

Why are you *sharing* a single email account? Why not instead have a email account that will forward all e-mails to that one account to every other member of the board?

This is far more efficient, since then each person can manage their own emails, and it's also far more SECURE. When people leave the board, you don't have to keep changing email addresses. Also, when someone sends an email from this one address, you don't know who actually sent it so there is zero accountability.

The solution you have is by far the worst possible solution you could have come up with.

Have a single in-bound email such as "", and have the people who are on the board actually get forwarded each email. This is basic functionality for any email system. Even gmail will forward emails to other email accounts.

You can play tricks with the reply-to address or the name on each people's accounts so that the person who receives the email will respond back to the one inbound email address.

I like the tags (1)

jgarra23 (1109651) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285654)

My email has never been more organized and I can put things under multiple tags. Using GMail... there are some filtering techniques they are lacking but overall it's great & the have a nice function "filter for emails like these" that can aid in creating filters...

Tags (2, Insightful)

drgonzo59 (747139) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285672)

Go with tags, they are more powerful. Folders will force you into a hierarchy (if you can even have sub-folders).

With tags you can create arbitrary categories. So a "status" tag can be assigned to an email that already has a "report" tag but also to the one that has a "meetings" tag. In other words it is like being able to put the same object in two different folders.

One drawback of tags is, that it is harder to visualize. Google does a good job with searching but I can't think how you can visualize it (as a graph/hypergraph actually might work).

The other drawback is that people are more used to folder because they dealt with file systems before ("I'll make a folder for dates, then inside we'll split them by topic" kind of thinking).

Re:Tags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286088)

The only way that folders work, is if the set up is formal, and the add ons are kept to a minimum. Going no more deep than 3 levels.

For things like this I completely agree that tags or some sort of DB are really the way to go. It isn't likely that enough emails fall into only 1 category to have a neat set up.

Things are still possibly going to be lost in a tag system, but far less frequently. Having to check possibly 100 folders most days is only going to lead to lost messages.

Re:Tags (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286226)

Visualize using Venn Diagrams. Meetings tags will sometimes share items with Brainstorm tags, and a Venn Diagram would show how some are separate and some are together.

gmail labels _are_ folders (1)

xenoterracide (880092) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285682)

If you use imap you'll quickly see that those spiffy gmail labels just copied things into folders

Suggestion (5, Interesting)

Jeff321 (695543) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285684)

Use a message board.

Google Apps (but how?) (1)

bgfay (5362) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285686)

I like the idea of a Google Apps account and just sending everything to everyone's account. So how does one do such a thing centrally so that users don't have to think about it? My ideal solution would be to have users send mail to and it would then distribute it to everyone in the group. Is that possible with Google Apps?

Re:Google Apps (but how?) (2, Informative)

rmcd (53236) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285730)

Look into google groups. Each user can decide what to do with new messages, including forwarding messages to their own accounts.

Re:Google Apps (but how?) (1)

bgfay (5362) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285840)

Okay, here's how dumb I am: we have a Google Group and almost everyone is using it in just this way. Wow, I should probably quit sniffing so much glue.

Re:Google Apps (but how?) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286666)


Folders allow better organization (2, Insightful)

engun (1234934) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285692)

Personally, I like hierarchical organization over tagging. I think it's more natural to organize information this way and helps you to narrow down your subject faster. For example, I have a folder called work within which there is a folder for each project I work on. If I move an e-mail into just one of these project folders, I've already significantly narrowed things down.

Tagging on the other hand is just like having a folder a single level deep. One difference is that you can tag the same e-mail multiple times, but then, can you really be bothered to tag the same e-mail under multiple headings? That would be somewhat like copying your e-mail into multiple folders, an even greater hassle.

I'd suspect that google introduced tagging just because it's easier to tack on than hierarchical folder management.

I used to think that way.. (2, Insightful)

Junta (36770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285760)

Until I thought about the ability to have multiple tags on an item. Essentially, with tagging you have the full power of set arithmetic. A hierarchical scheme can be considered a strict subset. If you have INBOX, with a subfolder called 'Bank', and a subfolder called 'Credit', you can acheive the same thing by tagging the same message both 'bank' and 'credit'. The 'subfolder' would now represent the set intersection of the two tags. True, all your groups are visiibile from the top level, but a UI could none the less have a drill-down with set notation and acheive the same effect as hierarchical organization.

So tagging can have that power, it's a matter of UI design to make it as convenient.

Re:I used to think that way.. (1)

Zaphod2016 (971897) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286162)

I'm not sure that would work.

Msg 1 tags: bank, credit

Msg 2 tags: credit, visa

Msg 3 tags: bank, visa

Define the drill-down structure.

If you are going to limit user input, so that some keyword combinations are prohibited, you are essentially back to using a rigid set of cats & sub-cats.

My solution has always been to list related tags. Ex: when browsing "credit" show related tag "visa", "bank", or use a recursive function to go back X relationships to show the entire tag family (i.e. bank => visa => credit). Problem with this, sooner or later every tag is used in conjunction with almost every other, and the feature looses its purpose.

Another solution: abstract tags to allow multiple keywords. [bank] (key, visa, credit). Whenever any of these keywords are used, the group tag (bank) is used instead. This avoids the "election2008" v. "2008 Election" issue pointed out above. However, in practice, you must still define a rigid structure in order for this to work, or trust a comparison algorithm to join similar keywords.

If anyone has an example of a working model of this, I'm all ears. I would LOVE to see a drill-down menu of some sort of tag hierarchy based on organic user tagging, but I've yet to see anything reliable enough to use in a "real" project.

Re:I used to think that way.. (1)

pthisis (27352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286276)

All available tags can be drilled down (assuming you've not already drilled them down and there's something in the sub-intersection).

So at the top, you could go bank->visa or visa->bank and you'd see message3.

It's not a hierarchy.

Top level is

Re:I used to think that way.. (1)

Zaphod2016 (971897) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286338)

So what you end up with is a tag cloud, which shows related tags once selected. I'm imagining a menu based on many, many unique organic tags, with only a few top level options, as to be readable.

Tags: Good; Another Idea? (5, Interesting)

no1home (1271260) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285716)

Emails don't really fit into the folder structure very well because they might belong to several groupings at the same time, thus requiring multiple copies or shortcuts/links to an original (which most email programs don't do). Tags are definitely better for this since an email can have many tags at once.

Here's another idea you might, or might not, like:

Use GMail, or similar, for a group of accounts, one of which is the main, public address. This main account auto-forwards to the 10 member accounts, much like a list-serve. Replies from a member are CC'ed to the main account (set the rules right, or you could end up with an endless loop!!) and the 'Reply To:' field from the members is to the main account. This way, everybody gets everything, the group account is still the focal point, and everybody is responsible for keeping their own account organized.

If a single person is responsible for all of this (you?), you can set it up such that you are the one who can make changes to all the accounts and the others only have emailing privileges (but I haven't thought this part out and it may be difficult with some systems). One thing to consider if you use this is to either have an agreement (which some will break) or a setup that does not allow the users to use this account setup with out the CC'ing. This prevents them from using the account for personal or nefarious reasons.

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285816)

Ok, it's been a number of years since I have used Outlook, but are you saying that you can't put a single email into two different folders at the same time in Outlook or most other email programs?

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

stevey (64018) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285848)

You can certainly have an email in two places; but that works as you'd expect - there are two unrelated mails in two unrelated folders. There isn't a magic "This message is the same as that message" relationship stored.

i.e. If you copy a message into folders "TODO.Urgent", and "Customer Bob" there is no notion that these messages are the same.

Ideally the copied message should be treated as a symlink, or similar. If that were the case you'd be able to reply to the first message and the second would be updated to notice that it had been replied to - but that isn't the case.

Thats why having tags works so nicely, because there is only one message - it just has multiple means of locating it.

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286018)

That is truly surprising. Lotus Notes has been handling this correctly for decades.

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

stevey (64018) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286384)

I loathed the usage of lotus notes so much that I managed to not notice!

In general, though, I had the impression it was more featureful than Outlook, etc.

Me? I use mutt for mail handling at home & work these day!

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

Matje (183300) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285860)

Yes we are. Have you been living under a rock or did you communicate using RFC1149 [] exclusively? :P

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (2, Informative)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285974)

No, I have been using Lotus Notes, which has allowed you to put the same email in multiple folders for well over a decade. Anything less is truly a crappy design. I am just shocked that every other email application out there is still decades behind in such a basic function.

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (2, Informative)

_Ludwig (86077) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286180)

Most modern email clients let you achieve this functionality with "smart folders" or "saved searches" or whatever nomenclature the particular client uses. These are basically dynamic search results in the guise of a folder. So you might have one smart folder that "contains" all email from, wherever the actual messages reside in in the real folder hierarchy. Tagging lets you extend this by adding arbitrary criteria that don't exist in the original message, e.g. "StuffThatCanWait," "ProjectMayhem," whatever.

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

techSage (716096) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286284)

Outlook has this ability via Categories, of which items can be assigned to several.

Re:Tags: Good; Another Idea? (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286524)

Technically you can - if you categorise your email, and create Search Folders, then your email "exists" in all Search Folders that match the categories on it (though it still only physically exists in one place). Search Folders are incredibly handy (Gmail also has an equivalent - the whole Virtual Folders thing).

How helpless are you? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285718)

So every time I have a petty little problem that I could easily solve on my own with a bit of research and some time spent finding what works for me and doesn't work for me, do I get to troll slashdot with it? Seriously. Do you REALLY need a "community effort" to figure out how to sort your e-mail? It's not like this is some special, unheard-of, unique problem that no one has ever encountered and solved before.

From idiots who wait on hold on technical support lines to ask questions that are documented in the manual, the help file, the README file, the Web site, and the FAQ (so that people who really do need a technician get to wait), to people who have no creative capacity and cannot solve their own mundane problems, I really wonder what the hell is wrong with people.

When you "Ask Slashdot" a very open-ended question like this, you're going to get many different answers. If you show some initiative and Google it, you're going to get ... wait for it ... many different answers. Such is the nature of a problem that does not have One Correct Solution. Life has many such problems.

So what did you gain from making a "gee everybody let's come together" big deal out of it, exactly, that you could not have done on your own? Why must you be so helpless that you can't deal with this unassisted? Don't you understand that this lack of self-sufficiency is a handicap that, unlike most handicaps, you can choose whether you have it?

This will get modded down because, OHMYGOSH it might OFFEND someone! Oh Noes, what will we do ... I forgot how adults these days are so tender and so easily offended that they think they have a right to never read or hear anything they dislike. Meanwhile, I doubt anyone is going to give a real answer to why you can't handle this yourself, because there is no good reason for that.

Re:How helpless are you? (1)

bgfay (5362) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286166)

This is crap. Sometimes there is an advantage to a discussion instead of reading something Googled. What happens is that one idea bounces off another and another as people listen to the ideas being shared. The idea that everything about this question has been said is ludicrous.

I'm not in favor of lots of meetings in any organization, but I do like to have the ability to interact with other people who will lead me to something I haven't thought of before. Maybe I can get something close to that by searching the web, but then again, probably not.

Then again, maybe if this person had just searched the web for an answer they wouldn't have been treated to such a sanctimonious harangue about being stupid. Posting to Ask Slashdot: free. Reading comments: free. Getting told that your lack of self-sufficiency is a handicap: priceless.

I wouldn't mod you down for this comment. Rather, I presented the another view of things because I'm guessing that you wouldn't search the web for it.

Forums (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285802)

There's been some good email-oriented suggestions but maybe you'd also like to consider a private forum, setup on an in-house system (takes minutes with a CMS like Joomla and fireboard) where you can create sub-categories as required, contribute to multiple issues with an nice visual overview of all live topics and see a complete threaded history of all discussions.

An added benefit is that if all connections are secured (https) then provided the core system is setup properly, all correspondence is safe from prying eyes compared to plain-text emails flying across teh Internets (assuming you are not encrypting your emails).

Throw in a file repository system (remository under Joomla?) and you have a central location for all key files, which means you eliminate the headache of multiple versions attached to (insecure) emails.

Re:Forums (2, Interesting)

Demiansmark (927787) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285968)

I agree with the parent. I think it's obvious that email isn't the ideal solution here. Scale this up even a little more (say 25 people) and it's obvious that a shared email account isn't the answer. A forum, as noted, might be appropriate or even looking into to other solutions like 37signal-esque stuffs like Basecamp and Backpackit, might work.

Folders are tags, with restrictions. (1)

Peeet (730301) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285818)

If you think about it, folders are just tags with restrictions placed on how many "tags" a message can have. So anything you wanted to do with folders or tags can be done with tags; it gives you more fexibility. In reality, the computer is not actually moving the data around anyway, just re-"tagging" the pointers to the data and enforcing those restrictions. I would say go with tagging, but then I'd also say go with Google Apps and / or Google Groups and either set up a mailing list (in Apps) or one private group that everyone has access to.

Let's ask the stupid questions first... (4, Insightful)

Angostura (703910) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285822)

... because the are always the most valuable.

Currently, I'm completely unclear as to what kind of information you are attempting to organize here.

You imply you communicate with each other via e-mail, you say you communicate with the student body via e-mail. Fine, so what exactly is the purpose of these myriad nested folders? What is the organizational problem you are trying to solve?

You have a broken culture (4, Interesting)

barfy (256323) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285826)

There is absolutely no reason to share emails in this organization.

The secretary's job is not just the completion of the minutes. But to organize and forward on information that is required for the board. Information that is supposed to represent the boards point of view should go through the same single point.

Ad hoc access to, filtering of, replying to and otherwise manipulating the email is broken. One of the symptoms of that brokenness is the problem you are seeing now.

Fix the culture, the rest will follow.

Re:You have a broken culture (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286630)

I agree. Email was meant for point to point communication. It is not a group collaboration tool. You system is failing because you are trying to use the wrong tool for the job. Use this as an oporuity to migrate to a better tool entirely.

Do you want to see who's read what (1)

bkleinman (714581) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285858)

One way to use tags in this scenario (I haven't, but I've contemplated it) is that you can use them to indicate what items some of you need to read or have read. You might need 10 new tags for this: person(x)-unread for each person in your group. A rule can be set up so that all incoming email is tagged with person-unread for all the people in the group. Whoever reads an email first can categorize it properly, and can also remove their unread tag. Setup a filter for each person, so that they can see the items tagged unread for them. I'm not sure how you would do this just with folders, but it lets you solve the problem (which you might not be suffering from) of emails getting lost.

"outlook web-access portal..." (0, Troll)

msauve (701917) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285864)

HAW! HAW! You misspelled "lookout."

Re:"outlook web-access portal..." (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286540)

No, they correctly spelled the name of the email client. It's only if they were talking about the popular search addon for said email client that they would be talking about LookOut.

We Switched their Tags with Folgers Crystals... (1)

neildiamond (610251) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285866)

Let's see if anyone notices.

Apathy is hard to cure. (1)

wandering56 (1283740) | more than 6 years ago | (#23285874)

If your fellow directors can't be bothered to properly sort the traffic as they like it, chances are any solution you come up with for them ultimately won't work. Well organized chaff is still chaff.

It's an interesting question, kind of, but it doesn't seem worth a front page link.

Advice from another student group (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285950)

I also manage e-communication at a university for a large student group (13-person exec board & 40+ non-exec members). Each exec member has his own committee to communicate with as well as the entire exec board. This year my university adopted Google Apps, and most of our members had Google accounts anyway. So we had each exec member use either their own personal Google account or a university google account. All e-mails or organized privately by each individual in his own account. Google Docs is where we do most of our collaboration. This means that there's no work for me to keep each person organized because that's his own responsibility, and people have the freedom to organize their tags or folders as they please. I don't even have to manage sharing rights--each exec member chooses with whom to share all his own Google Docs documents and spreadsheets.

The point: I highly recommend going with Google: Gmail+chat, Google Docs, Calendar, and Google groups (which I use heavily in another student group). You could have your group e-mail automatically forward to each person, or you can have your group email be a Google Groups email address.

The major draw back of this approach: learning curve. Don't underestimate people's desire to keep doing things the way they've always done it. Just adopting a strategy doesn't solve the problem. it's not that people are lazy or dumb. They're just trying to manage their time efficiently. If you want to transition people to a new system, you have to work one-on-one with each person.

fixing the Titanic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23285972)

Ten members in the board of directors? What are you running, California? And none of you can be bothered to actually meet? Man, just fold the damn organization, and give back those student funds you've been drinking.

uhm, mailman? NNTP? (1)

brezel (890656) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286022)

why not use the technologies that have been around for ages and were specifically designed for that kind of thing?

ad libum? (3, Funny)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286024)

"tacked on ad libum."

This phrase bears to Latin the same relation that "el trucko" bears to Spanish.

Microsoft Groove (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286034)

If you all run Windows and proprietary lock-up is not a concern for you, you should try Microsoft Groove.

Its target are small (< 40 people) teams and it can keep synchronized files, calendars, meetings minutes, message board like threads, issue tracking etc.

(I know this is /.)

What are you trying to do? (1)

Hacksaw (3678) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286060)

I'd suggest the folders can be okay if you have a filing system.

My suggestion is that the filing system consist of a folder for each project you are working on, and an archive for folders from past projects.

Don't let yourself have a "miscellaneous" folder, that'll just become a dumping ground for things no-one wants to deal with.

Don't forget to make a few folders for things you might not consider a project, like suggestions for future projects.

So, imagining that you are a kite-flying organization, some example folders:

March-fly-in-2009: Club sponsored flying event to be held on campus
Kite-surfing-class: club arranged class with kite surfing expert
Box-kite-workshop: lets' teach the local elementary students to make and fly box kites
Complaints: Messages we have received that we must address with some useful action.
suppliesApril08: a discussion of needed supplies for the office and the regular kite-making meeting
budget09: talk regarding the budget we have to submit to Student government to get our allowance
archive: Old projects, budghets and supplies discussions

The key to these things is to be brutal about taking care of the mail. Don't keep old projects in the main area, don't lump all projects together, and don't let random crap pile up. If it does move the goals of the organization forward, delete it. Only save old projects so you can see the history of the why's behind your decisions and actions. Don't save the jokes, asides, and complaints about the thread getting offtopic, kill them right away.

Tagging won't help unless you have a plan that sayswhy you are tagging. Having both can be good, because you can use them to set the state of a piece of mail.

Consider this tag set:


You could probably come up with others that more fit your situation. The point is to use the tag to indicate what needs to be done with the email. An email containing the final list for the next supply run could be marked with the supplies-todo tag, and when the supplies are acquired, marked with the Actions-done tag.

The goal in this is to have a process by which each email is dealt with as rapidly as possible, by providing the right place for it to be, and maybe some markers to help people find it again if needed. Most importantly, you must make real decisions about what "needed" means. Don't fall into the 12,000 emails trap. Even with a good search function, there are too many things that will be similar, and you'll have to look at 2000 emails to find that one you remember from 2 years ago.

Who cares? (1)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286070)

Using either system in the group you described is going to end up being a mess. After a while both systems are going to require somebody to go through and sort them all out manually.

Tags. Or three folders maximum. (1)

Qbertino (265505) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286128)

Tags can intermingle You can have multiple tags on one mail, but you can't put a mail in multiple folders.

If you use folders, I suggest you reduce your amount of them to a maximum of three: Important, Archive & Junk. You can even actuallly reduce that to Inbox and Archive. Or make a list of [Name]SawIt folders. The last one in the alphabet is responsible for archiving it into archive. That way you can make sure everyone read the important stuff. Just move it to the next userfolder in line after you've read it.

Bottom line: Folders only make sense if you reduce their amount to a minimum following one single standard that everyone understands in 3 minutes. Tags are more flexible.

Re:Tags. Or three folders maximum. (1)

_Ludwig (86077) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286200)

You can have multiple tags on one mail, but you can't put a mail in multiple folders.

You can with dynamic saved search "folders," which are pretty much a prerequisite to making any use of tags to begin with.

redirect to private Mailman (1)

tigerc (628630) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286146)

I'm in charge of the tech aspects of a school group with two email addresses that we accept mail from the public. I've set up an internal Mailman that only board members know about. The two external emails accounts are forwarded to the internal mailman which then sends a copy of the email to all of the people subscribed to the listserv.

I then set up Mail man to munge the reply-to fields so that the reply to field is the same as the private listserv. As a result, we can talk amongst oursevles about something and then when we decide, we simply reply to the original message and bcc ourselves. This works really well because everyone gets a copy of everything, there's no sharing of email accounts, there's no remembering to reply all, etc. Also, spam drops to nearly zero because you can filter the external accounts quite well.

As for the actual organization part...don't you have a set list of what people normally do? If not, usually someone replies to the message and says "hey bob, can you follow up on this?". This system works extraordinarily well.

doesn't libum mean... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286204)


Wiki (1)

Mipsalawishus (674206) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286214)

You might want to look into using a good wiki system that lets you manage permissions and groups. Take a look at Confluence made by Atlassian, or Clearspace made by Jive (Jive Software also makes a great XMPP server that integrates nicely with Clearspace). One nice feature with Confluence is that it email edits to members of a group automatically, further extending it's reach to your members. I know you can get an academic license for Confluence, and probably one for Clearspace. I've used both products and found them to work great for what you're trying to accomplish.
Just my 2 cents....

Since when did Slashdot become a forum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286222)

Since when did Slashdot become a forum?

ad libum (1)

statemachine (840641) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286248)

Is that Celtic? Otherwise I think you just said "to the cake."

Re:ad libum (1)

zensufi (743379) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286578)

Well, a paper by Hess, Shanks, and Hutjens called "Accelerated Calf Growing Program" [] says that "ad libum" means "to appetite," which I assume means you give as much of the food/drink to the cows as they are willing to consume. So perhaps the questioner means that they made new folders whenever they got hungry instead of eating? Or that they made folders until their folder-making appetite was sated?

Re:ad libum (1)

statemachine (840641) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286616)

That conflicts with my source, who wrote a cake recipe [] .

Use Categories (Tags), Outlook Has Them (1)

techSage (716096) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286266)

Use Outlook categories. They are the same thing as tags and you can create search folders in Outlook that can act a one-click access to certain topics as a regular folder would, with the added advantage that you can have more than one tag per item (as others have mentioned). Plus, since it's already available in Outlook, you don't have to move your mail over to GMail, giving them the opportunity to capitolize on your content, unless you're into that.

A village is missing its idiot (2, Insightful)

Zey (592528) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286268)

Your setup is completely idiotic. A shared account is just begging to be abused, particularly in a student politics environment.

Email arrives, on an issue which incriminates a board member: "Oh gee, it's been deleted and nobody knows who did it or what it contained." Issue turns up at the local student meeting and details regarding why that dodgy contract was approved: "Golly, looks like that email was removed." Crazy stuff. Unless your cabal intentionally wants to make itself unaccountable, you need to fix that up pronto.

How? Set up a mailing list (using, for example, Mailman) and have it deliver mail to each board member's personal email address. This stuff is trivial for any junior systems administrator. How this got approved as a Slashdot question is a mystery.

Neither (1)

Art3x (973401) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286290)

Neither. Use good search (like Gmail). I use Gmail, and I have never tagged a single message, and I have always been able to find the message I want on the first search. A search engine basically adds tags to files. If you have a good search engine, then you won't have to add tags by hand.

And a quick Google.. (1)

neveragain4181 (800519) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286326)

..brings up this email tagging solution. []

Seems to be what you are looking for?

Time for a Tracking System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23286438)

Time to move out of the 90's and setup even a simple incident tracking system. An email system lacks reporting and accountability.

Admit it (1)

JaQuinton (1194157) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286770)

Admit it, you wanted GMail way before you posted this.I say go for it, I wish our school had the luxury of having email but those jack-asses refuse to let us students acess anything even remotely related to email... good thing I know ways around all that.

Re:Admit it (1)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286980)

Our school uses Yahoo to manage all the email accn'ts. I wish they'd used a google solution.

Email is the Wrong tool (1)

Count_Froggy (781541) | more than 6 years ago | (#23286928)

There are any number of collaborative group sites from Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, and Airset; any of which is a better choice for your purposes. All allow the individual member to get emails, notifications of postings and other information as they choose. All provide for easy posting of text and files for group distribution. This is like using a screwdriver for a screw instead of a hammer.

Wrong tool for the wrong problem (2, Informative)

thoglette (74419) | more than 6 years ago | (#23287046)

Firstly, what are you trying to do?
If it is "discussion between a group of people" then email is the wrong solution. That's what nttp was invented for - threaded discussions. Even a modern blog/bbs will do a better job.

Secondly, part the secretary's job is summarise and communicate the businesss and decisions of the board. And _sometimes_ the reasons for the decisions. If you can't write minutes, have a dedicated blog. With a printed hardcopy filed with your departmental/faculty secretary.

On that front, trusting Google with your records is like trusting Microsoft with your DRM' music.

Yes, Use Gmail (1)

Ender!Krum (1283790) | more than 6 years ago | (#23287508)

Simple answer to your question - Yes, use Gmail.

If you are looking to completely revise how you use email, I am sure there are 100 ways to accomplish it (and some suggestions here are helpful). However, it seem like the current system is working fairly well for you (and your colleagues) and you just want to streamline it somewhat.

You can do this by using Gmail with their "tags" but, more importantly, the ability to never have to delete anything and search everything.

Good luck!

GTD (0)

lewko (195646) | more than 6 years ago | (#23287580)

Go away and read "The Art of Getting Things Done" by David Allen. It would have been mentioned here earlier, but most of its proponents are likely off... getting things done.

Then Google for a presentation called "Inbox Zero" which takes the GTD ideas and applies them to email.

Now, watch this post get modded up by the cult of GTD.
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