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What 16 billion emails reveal about our inbox routines

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Mtkang / Shutterstock
Email: Can’t live without it, can barely live with it. Researchers from Yahoo Labs and Cornell University have been busy looking at 16 billion messages sent by two million people over the course of several months, and what they found wasn’t particularly surprising — in fact the biggest takeaway from the study was that we’re all very predictable in the way we use email.

Despite the mass of messages arriving in our inboxes, we’re still very quick to reply: Half of all replies are within 47 minutes, and two minutes is the most common response time (the researchers note that this is similar to response times on Twitter). The most frequent reply length is a mere five words, with half of all replies coming under the 43-word mark. If you like to be brief in your messages, you’re not alone.

As you would expect, the researchers found that we’re more responsive during the working day — reply time tails off in the evenings and during the weekends. We’re also briefer in our replies when responding outside of the Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. windows. What’s more, replies sent in the morning are usually substantially longer than those sent in the afternoon or evening.

The study also took gender and age into account, finding that young people are much quicker to respond than older people, and use fewer words when doing so. Interestingly, the more email we get, the more active we become, so an avalanche of emails usually spurs us on rather than causing us to throw in the towel and do something else.

The predictability of our email habits means that computer-controlled algorithms stand a good chance of being able to help us sort through the deluge in the future — if it’s easier to guess our responses, then it’s easier to write software to manage those responses on our behalf. If you’re after more statistics and charts, you can read through the full study.

Via Popular Science

[Image courtesy of mtkang/]

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David Nield
Dave is a freelance journalist from Manchester in the north-west of England. He's been writing about technology since the…
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