How Social Networks Lowered My Inbox

The first thing I did when I got ‘the Internet’ was to claim my own little spot on this virtual world knowing I’d stick around for a while. And I have done so by reading the RFC for e-mail and talking to the ISP and figure out how to set up my first ever electronic mail account.

I’ve never really been able since to have a zero inbox, as they call it with GTD (get things done). But that’s ok. I have learned over the years to deal with e-mail. But with the introduction of newer technologies and web 2.0, social networks have been the reason why my current inbox is as good as empty.

My first mail account isn’t there anymore, I don’t even remember it anymore and have been using my own domain name (since 1998) and Google’s mail (gmail) service (since 2005).

Social networks such as Twitter, social blog sites such as VIRB, Blogger, and huge networks like Facebook. Oh, and not to forget instant message services like Skype, IRC, and what not… They have all contributed to my inbox basically being empty every day. If only it was possible to completely get rid of it, who knows, maybe in the next decade.

What I have learned is to not use pop3, to use encryption, to use imap, and to handle important mails and simply not reply to less significant mails.

imap and syncing allows me to have one account on various systems and devices, such as my iMac as well as my iPad. And that means if you get a new one you get a notification, and if you have replied or marked it as read, archived or flagged it for spam. It’s already ‘like that’ on all the devices. So no more management on that part.

This also means that you have to take security seriously. Set a strong password that is completely unique, and have a solid ‘recovery’ option for the account. As well as 2-step authentication.

Handling mails that are important should be marked important, possibly flagged to remind you they require a follow up. And organize them in labels or categories/groups. This allows you to quickly get an overview, the topic-, or person’s history. And it allows you to pick the important ones out with a glance and spend the time replying to them.

I tend to check out the iPad in the morning and recognize spam that didn’t get caught yet and flag it accordingly. And glance over less important mails so I know if I can reply or not. And then I just archive those. So they don’t even show in the inbox anymore. I leave the more important mails until I had my breakfast and am behind my workstation.

Insignificant emails that are confirmations, follow ups, etc. I never reply to them with ‘thank you for your e-mail, I got it!’, the other person can assume I received it. No need to waste each others time. Other mails such as community digest mails that I like to keep are filtered. They show up in the group or under a label, and marked read. The inbox is skipped. And once in a while I glance over them to see if I missed something important. If not, they’re all deleted.

Anyway! Social networking helped me to stay in touch with people almost ‘live’ and this means that I can simply talk to them on Skype directly, tweet them a question and get a response. Or reply on Facebook chat or a FB message. The long wait of ‘not so much live’ electronic mail has been taken out of the equation.

Social networks are great for a lot of things, and horrible for a lot of other things. But they’re a wonderful tool to stay in touch with people. Something I used to use e-mail for.

A prime example is that instead of sending an e-mail to a group of family members (not knowing who cares about my attempt to communicate with them), I might write a blog and tweet it out. Those who are interested in what I do get an update on their social network. And for those who don’t like to use a computer they won’t read my mail anyway and I can talk to them over the phone when they call.

I think that if you think it through a little about how you want to use e-mail and social networks, you can lower the amount of unread messages in your inbox, and actually still be more social – perhaps because of it.