Designing E-Mail for Knowledge Management in Distributed Organizations

Designing E-Mail for Knowledge Management in Distributed Organizations

Linda Leung (University of Technology Sydney, Australia), Tania Humphreys (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) and Alastair Weakley (University of Technology Sydney, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-783-8.ch311
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The academic literature on studies of e-mail fall into two main categories. The first is concerned with how volume of e-mail is managed in the context of “information overload” (Mackay, 1988, p. 344), to the extent that e-mail is now used peri-synchronously, or nearly synchronously, rather than just asynchronously (Tyler & Tang, 2003). Such studies largely relate to individuals and their approaches to and feelings about e-mail, rather than the role of e-mail within an organization and its business relationships. As early as 1996, Whittaker and Sidner (1996, p. 276) noted that “there is little systematic data on its usage and utility as a workplace technology”. Although much has since been written about personal strategies for archiving e-mails and using it to manage tasks in work settings (Mackay, 1988; Tyler & Tang, 2003; Whittaker & Sidner, 1996), there is scant research on the larger scale implications of using e-mail to manage and archive knowledge at an organizational level.

The second body of literature complements the first by attempting to address the problems identified in managing e-mail data through the development of software applications that enable alternative forms of information retrieval and visualization. These software applications share similar characteristics by seeking to represent aspects of e-mail interactions not as apparent in standard e-mail clients. The various ways in which this is done encompass: visualizing patterns of e-mail exchange over time (Viegas, Boyd, Nguyen, Potter & Donath, 2004; Yiu, Baecker, Silver & Long, 1997), visualizing patterns of e-mail exchange between people (Heer, 2004), clustering similar sets of messages (Nardi, Whittaker, Isaacs, Creech, Johnson & Hainsworth, 2002), clustering people (Donath, 1995) and enabling more powerful search and retrieval functions beyond what is available in standard e-mail clients (Fernanda, Golder & Donath, 2006).

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