Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Outlook Bandwidth Dial Plug-in

I recently saw a great new plugin for Microsoft Outlook. If you’re like me, you get tons of email each day. The problem with Outlook is that you only get metrics on how many emails are in your InBox (and other folders) and how many of those emails are unread. What I would like are some more metrics on how much email I manage each day…how much I file away, how much I delete unread (spam), how many emails I get from certain people, the average time an email sits in my InBox, how many emails am I only cc:’d on, how many people do I cc:…you get the idea. If I had that kind of information I could judge whether I was managing my email effectively and work on improving my email efficiency. Well, this new plugin tracks *all* that stuff and more. It even provides graphs of the metrics over time so you can see how you’re doing for the week or month.

This plugin would be wonderful if that’s all it did, but it does even *more*. The plugin takes the metric information, and Tivo-like, it starts to build a picture of your overall email bandwidth. The company that makes this plugin claims the process used to derive your personal overall email bandwidth (OEB) is patented, but describes it as an active stochastic process that uses a rule-based AI system starting with standard information-worker profiles, and then customizes the profile using pattern recognition software. All in all, it’s a pretty fast system and also pretty effective. Within a few days I had a consistent OEB (shown as a solid blue line on the bandwidth graphs) and I could see how my day-to-day actual email bandwidth fluctuated around that norm.

Now comes the really cool part. This plugin works with Microsoft Exchange, the email server software. Using your OEB, you can define an OEB Dial. The concept behind the OEB Dial is that when people send you more email when you’re already at your OEB limit (i.e. you have no available email bandwidth), the Exchange server will automatically reject the email back to the sender with a customizable message. The default message is “You have exceeded {your name}’s email bandwidth, please try again later.” Using the custom options, you can let the sender know an estimated time when you will have more bandwidth. For example, “…please try again in five days.” That would be an extreme example though.

The plugin writers have even realized through practice that there are a certain few people in your organization who use most of your bandwidth—you probably know who I’m talking about. To control this (somewhat) they’ve added an OEB Dial per User control. So, for example, if Joe Schmo is using most of your bandwidth with silly questions he could answer himself, you can allow him only 2% of your OEB. After he exceeds that, he will get the message (default, can be customized): “Joe Schmo, please ask someone else your inane question, I’m trying to work here and you’ve exceeded my OEB for today.”

I could go on and on about this product-- I think it’s the bee’s knees (that’s Australian for ‘cool’). If you want to try it out, go to the Microsoft Office Marketplace or Google, and search for: Outlook+Bandwidth+Dial. It will change how you look at email the way Tivo changes how you watch TV. Try it.