Contrasting Portraits of Email Practices:  Visual approaches to reflection and analysis

Adam Perer, Marc Smith (of Microsoft Research)

Abstract:  Over time, many people accumulate extensive email repositories that contain detailed information about their personal communication patterns and relationships.  We present three visualizations that capture hierarchical, correlational, and temporal patterns present in user’s email repositories.  These patterns are difficult to discover using traditional interfaces and are valuable for navigation and reflection on social relationships and communication history. We interviewed users with diverse email habits and found that they were able to interpret these images and could find interesting features that were not evident to them through their standard email interfaces.  The images also capture a wide range of variation in email practices.  These results suggest that information visualizations of personal communications have value for end-users and analysts alike.

Read the paper:  

To appear at the Advanced Visual Interfaces 2006 conference in Venice.

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Using Rhythms of Relationships to Understand Email Archives

Adam Perer, Ben Shneiderman, Douglas W. Oard

Abstract:  Due to email’s ubiquitous nature, millions of users are intimate with the technology.  However, most users are only familiar with managing their own email, which is an inherently different task than exploring an email archive. Historians and social scientists believe that email archives are important artifacts for understanding the individuals and communities they represent.  In order to understand the conversations evidenced in an archive, context is needed.  In this paper, we present a new way to gain this necessary context:  analyzing the temporal rhythms of social relationships.  We provide methods for constructing meaningful rhythms from the email headers by identifying relationships and interpreting their attributes. With these visualization techniques, email archive explorers can uncover insights that may have been otherwise hidden in the archive.  We apply our methods to an individual’s fifteen-year email archive, which consists of about 45,000 messages and over 4,000 relationships. 

Read the draft paper:  

To appear in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST).

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Beyond Threads: Identifying Discussions in Email Archives

Adam Perer, Ben Shneiderman

Abstract:  Email archives have the promise of serving as great resources for historians and social scientists. However, making sense of the information in these archives is a challenge. Email messages are often not self-contained and are instead a part of an ongoing discussion. The process of determining when discussions commence and conclude is a difficult task to automate. Threading
messages by common subject lines and reply-chain information in email headers has been a common way of assembling messages into discussions. However, even though email provides this structured information, it does not usually reflect the user’s behavior. Our work helps email archive explorers interpret the archived messages by providing access to the full scope of discussions that stretch beyond the thread. We present an interactive visualization that allows explorers to perceive a
discussion they need.

Read the full paper:

Presented at IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization 2005.


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Webpage maintained by Adam Perer.