Monday, November 14, 2011

Don’t take our word for it

Man and stack of paperAt Newforma, we’ve said for years that good search trumps good filing. Now a team of IBM and Microsoft researchers have validated our position with delightfully geeky data.

In a recent Lifehacker post, “Email Folders Might Actually Decrease Productivity; Just Search for Old Messages Instead,” Whitson Gordon summarizes the findings elegantly:

The problem, IBM says, is that people are relying too much on their inbox to show them their to-do list. In the end, though, finding those emails by digging through folders took 58 seconds, on average, while merely searching for them took 17 seconds.

The advantage of searching for information instead of browsing for it goes way beyond saving 41 seconds. As the report says, searching can make the difference between success and failure:

Did a reliance on folder-access predict success, or was search a stronger predictor? We found that people who relied on search were more likely to have successful finding sequences (r(356)=0.15, p<0.005). None of the other behaviors [folder access, sorting, and scrolling] correlated with success.

We would go a step further and say that not only is search a superior finding strategy for your own email, but it’s your only hope when looking for email or other project information filed (or misfiled) by team members.

As Newforma’s Bob Batcheler put it:

It doesn’t even begin to address the cost of trying to find stuff by relying on a filing system when someone has MISFILED the item you are looking for!

Read the research, “Am I wasting my time organizing email? A study of email refinding,” at the website of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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