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Finding Email in a Multi-Account,
Multi-Device World
Marta E. Cecchinato1, Abigail Sellen2, Milad Shokouhi2, Gavin Smyth2
1University College London 
 
2Microsoft Research
Email: m.cecchinato@cs.ucl.ac.uk
Twitter: @martacecchinato
What is the fate of email?
Growing numbers
Emails sent per day (Radicati, 2015)
Email accounts per user (Radicati, 2015)
Device ownership (PEW research, 2015)
×
Prior work on re-finding email
Preparatory behaviour: users take time to file and label
email in anticipation of retrieving the information.






Opportunistic behaviour: users rely on sorting, scrolling or
searching at the time of need, delaying the burden.


Whittaker et al. (2011)
Search
What retrieval strategies do
users employ across work and
personal accounts?
Do users’ email retrieval
strategies differ across devices?
Participants
•  16 users (9 women)
•  22-54 years old (median: 28)
•  Various professions
physiotherapist, nurses, PhD students,
researchers, post-doc, high school
teacher, teaching associate, barista,
software engineer, graphic designer, and
marketing coordinator. 



3 email accounts each 
4 devices each 
2 smartwatch users

©	Marta	Cecchinato
Initial
interview

General
understanding of
email use.




45 to 80 minutes.
Diary study &
data logging
239 diary entries
were collected. 

RescueTime was
optional: 6 out of 16
agreed.

7 days.
Follow-up
interview
Further insights on
diary entries.

Scheduled within 7
days from the end of
the diary. 

20 to 60 minutes.
Pre-study survey & pictures (physical desktop + folders)
Method
Main findings
1.  Retrieval across accounts
2.  Issues and workarounds across accounts
3.  Issues and workarounds across devices
1. Retrieval across accounts


Preferred retrieval strategies based on type of account:
•  Personal accounts: opportunistic strategies




•  Work accounts: preparatory + opportunistic strategies
Search	
Search
2. Issues & workarounds across accounts
Boundaries between accounts are not always well defined
2. Issues & workarounds across accounts
My sister might send me this really interesting thing to do with academic
things […] and she might have put some personal information about a
holiday… I’d be really confused about where to put that [in folders].

(P10, first interview)
“
”
P10’s home office (work)
 P10’s home office (personal)
2. Issues & workarounds across accounts
Before [my colleague and I] set
[Slack] up, it was really horrid, […] it
would all be like, ‘Oh, I sent you an email
three months ago’ or ‘I sent you a text’ or,
like, ‘I’ve got this like WhatsApp chat
thing’. But [now with Slack] it is all in
there and it’s all curated heavily and there’s
no, like, subject changing […] you’re
not posting something about
going for drinks in the thread
about the job we’re working
on.

(P12, first interview)
“
”
3. Issues & workarounds across devices
Smartphones are associated with storage and connectivity issues
3. Issues & workarounds across devices
Re-sending
Switching application
External copies
Pictures & screenshots
3. Issues & workarounds across devices
Re-sending
Switching application
External copies
Pictures & screenshots

Email	app	 Webclient
3. Issues & workarounds across devices
Re-sending
Switching application
External copies
Pictures & screenshots

It’s like keeping a single post-it note for it
[…] so its ephemeral. I mean, I don’t
search in the same way […] I don’t keep
an archive of all the post-it notes because
once that’s reached its purpose, it’s often in
the recycle bin.


(P1, follow-up interview)
“
”
3. Issues & workarounds across devices
Re-sending
Switching application
External copies
Pictures & screenshots


Had previously taken a screenshot of my
confirmation email from Trainline containing
info about both the outbound and inbound
train + went on my photo album on my phone
+ found the picture to collect my tickets. 
(P7, diary)


“
”
Take home message
1.  Work and personal emails are
managed and retrieved differently.
2.  It’s important to consider multiple
devices: emails are primarily
retrieved on laptops/PCs &
smartphones are rarely used for
finding emails.
3.  Email retrieval is a frustrating
experience.
4.  As a result, users create
workarounds, i.e. using Slack or
taking screenshots.
≠	
×
So what? We need to…
Better integrate email for work.
Learn from other communication tools.
Design for short-lived and long-lived content.
Optimise smartphone search.

Image	source:	h9p://www.justynsmith.com/
2012/01/short-term-is-the-new-long-term/	
Image	source:	h9p://hop.media/read/tech/always-
on-your-phone-usage-is-pissing-off-everyone
Take home message:
1.  Work and personal emails are managed and retrieved differently.
2.  It’s important to consider multiple devices: smartphones are rarely used for finding
emails.
3.  Email retrieval is a frustrating experience.
4.  Users create workarounds.
Email: m.cecchinato@cs.ucl.ac.uk
Twitter: @martacecchinato
Finding Email in a Multi-Account,
Multi-Device World

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Finding Email in a Multi-Account, Multi-Device World

  • 1. Finding Email in a Multi-Account, Multi-Device World Marta E. Cecchinato1, Abigail Sellen2, Milad Shokouhi2, Gavin Smyth2 1University College London 2Microsoft Research Email: m.cecchinato@cs.ucl.ac.uk Twitter: @martacecchinato
  • 2. What is the fate of email?
  • 3. Growing numbers Emails sent per day (Radicati, 2015) Email accounts per user (Radicati, 2015) Device ownership (PEW research, 2015) ×
  • 4. Prior work on re-finding email Preparatory behaviour: users take time to file and label email in anticipation of retrieving the information. 
 
 
 Opportunistic behaviour: users rely on sorting, scrolling or searching at the time of need, delaying the burden. Whittaker et al. (2011) Search
  • 5. What retrieval strategies do users employ across work and personal accounts? Do users’ email retrieval strategies differ across devices?
  • 6. Participants •  16 users (9 women) •  22-54 years old (median: 28) •  Various professions physiotherapist, nurses, PhD students, researchers, post-doc, high school teacher, teaching associate, barista, software engineer, graphic designer, and marketing coordinator. 
 3 email accounts each 4 devices each 2 smartwatch users © Marta Cecchinato
  • 7. Initial interview General understanding of email use. 45 to 80 minutes. Diary study & data logging 239 diary entries were collected. RescueTime was optional: 6 out of 16 agreed. 7 days. Follow-up interview Further insights on diary entries. Scheduled within 7 days from the end of the diary. 20 to 60 minutes. Pre-study survey & pictures (physical desktop + folders) Method
  • 8. Main findings 1.  Retrieval across accounts 2.  Issues and workarounds across accounts 3.  Issues and workarounds across devices
  • 9. 1. Retrieval across accounts 
 Preferred retrieval strategies based on type of account: •  Personal accounts: opportunistic strategies 
 •  Work accounts: preparatory + opportunistic strategies Search Search
  • 10. 2. Issues & workarounds across accounts Boundaries between accounts are not always well defined
  • 11. 2. Issues & workarounds across accounts My sister might send me this really interesting thing to do with academic things […] and she might have put some personal information about a holiday… I’d be really confused about where to put that [in folders]. (P10, first interview) “ ” P10’s home office (work) P10’s home office (personal)
  • 12. 2. Issues & workarounds across accounts Before [my colleague and I] set [Slack] up, it was really horrid, […] it would all be like, ‘Oh, I sent you an email three months ago’ or ‘I sent you a text’ or, like, ‘I’ve got this like WhatsApp chat thing’. But [now with Slack] it is all in there and it’s all curated heavily and there’s no, like, subject changing […] you’re not posting something about going for drinks in the thread about the job we’re working on. (P12, first interview) “ ”
  • 13. 3. Issues & workarounds across devices Smartphones are associated with storage and connectivity issues
  • 14. 3. Issues & workarounds across devices Re-sending Switching application External copies Pictures & screenshots
  • 15. 3. Issues & workarounds across devices Re-sending Switching application External copies Pictures & screenshots Email app Webclient
  • 16. 3. Issues & workarounds across devices Re-sending Switching application External copies Pictures & screenshots It’s like keeping a single post-it note for it […] so its ephemeral. I mean, I don’t search in the same way […] I don’t keep an archive of all the post-it notes because once that’s reached its purpose, it’s often in the recycle bin. (P1, follow-up interview) “ ”
  • 17. 3. Issues & workarounds across devices Re-sending Switching application External copies Pictures & screenshots Had previously taken a screenshot of my confirmation email from Trainline containing info about both the outbound and inbound train + went on my photo album on my phone + found the picture to collect my tickets. (P7, diary) “ ”
  • 18. Take home message 1.  Work and personal emails are managed and retrieved differently. 2.  It’s important to consider multiple devices: emails are primarily retrieved on laptops/PCs & smartphones are rarely used for finding emails. 3.  Email retrieval is a frustrating experience. 4.  As a result, users create workarounds, i.e. using Slack or taking screenshots. ≠ ×
  • 19. So what? We need to… Better integrate email for work. Learn from other communication tools. Design for short-lived and long-lived content. Optimise smartphone search. Image source: h9p://www.justynsmith.com/ 2012/01/short-term-is-the-new-long-term/ Image source: h9p://hop.media/read/tech/always- on-your-phone-usage-is-pissing-off-everyone
  • 20. Take home message: 1.  Work and personal emails are managed and retrieved differently. 2.  It’s important to consider multiple devices: smartphones are rarely used for finding emails. 3.  Email retrieval is a frustrating experience. 4.  Users create workarounds. Email: m.cecchinato@cs.ucl.ac.uk Twitter: @martacecchinato Finding Email in a Multi-Account, Multi-Device World