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995 Messages to Go, or the Tyranny of Many to One

Sitting here in an Alaska Airlines departure lounge in SFO on a Friday night, I managed to get my Inbox below 1000 messages for the first time this week.

The oldest unreplied message dates back to January of 2005. Earlier that week I dumped all of the older emails into a folder named Ancient and resolved to stay current that year. Every so often I reply to one of those mid-2005 emails just for the shock value it provides for the recipient!

There’s got to be a better way to deal with all of these interesting comments, questions, and requests (not to mention mailing lists) that I am on without drowning, but I don’t know what it is just yet.

Being a somewhat public figure (well known in my own little sphere) I get lots of personal email about my job and about my various RSS and Second Life projects. On the one hand answering emails takes up tons of time; on the other, having dozens of correspondents measurably enriches and informs my professional and personal life and is well worth the time invested.

On a recent podcast, Guy Kawasaki revealed that he receives 200 to 300 emails per day and that he endeavors to answer all of them. I don’t get that many, and on a good day try to end up with at least 10 fewer messages in my Inbox than I started with.

I have started to call this phenomenon where you become the well-known central contact point “The Tyranny of Many to One.” Insofar as there are zillions of other people out there and just one of me (and somedays they all want to email me), personal scalabilty is a real issue here.

Many of the messages that I get regarding Syndic8 are answered via a small collection of “blurbs” – some canned text that I have written which provides answers to common questions. If I could see any pattern to the other emails that I deal with I would create more blurbs.

Borrowing from the concept of object-oriented programming, I was thinking of creating an object-oriented interface (fortunately it would be a Singleton class, since one of me is more than enough) of my public methods — the set of things that I am regularly asked to do for other people. This would include things like:

  • Will you speak at my conference?
  • Will you help me with my web services problem?
  • Will you connect to me on LinkedIn?
  • Where’s my Amazon package?
  • Can I try to hire you?
  • Can you hire me?
  • Can I meet with you at a conference?
  • Can you reset my Syndic8 password?
  • Can you approve my feed?
  • How much does it cost to advertise on Syndic8?
  • Do you know Jeff Bezos and can you pass my idea along to him?

If these were methods and each accepted rigidly checked parameters (perhaps via a web form) I could avoid a lot of the back and forth associated with each one, and could perhaps do some semi-automated processing.

Ok, looks like my flight is leaving!

Added after I landed: Please don’t interpret this message as “don’t send me email.” That is absolutely not my intent.