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How to: Managing Your Email Inbox

In Digital Communications, Personal Development on June 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Remember when keeping your email inbox tidy was easy? When you only received a few emails a week?

26 June 2012–It is not uncommon to receive upwards of 50 emails per day, which means digital organization is paramount. Your inbox does not have to be an untamed storage device or a detriment to your digital communications. With Gmail and some personal training, your inbox can be a source of happiness and productivity. There is only one requirement: learning to use the Gmail tools to your advantage. Before engaging these tools, it’s best practice to sift through your inbox and delete unnecessary messages as you see fit.

  1. The Label. Labels are comparable to the standard folder. You can personalize labels with colors, names, and nesting or subcategories.
  2. The Filter. Using filters in Gmail is the single greatest organizational feature, IMO. You select an email address in the filter settings and click “create filter”. Once you establish labels, they can be applied to inbound messages to easily automate inbox maintenance. This is also done in the filter settings when creating or editing a filter. Google provides step-by-step instructions to create a filter. Play with the settings to achieve desired results (e.g. auto-archive).
  3. Control your contacts. Keep a complete list of completed contacts, with at least names and email addresses. Add notes to provide relationship context. This automates a step in compose email, specifically: recognizing your email contact by filling out the “To” field.
  4. Outsource your inbox. Google offers more to its users than Gmail. Have you ever used Google Documents? Google Calendar? These two G-tools, in particular, are very valuable when managing your inbox. Instead of holding emails in your inbox to remember dates or emails containing files, upload them to the appropriate Google tool.

A common task in email management is properly storing information and archiving. Create a routine digest for archiving your information and you will keep your inbox trimmed and lean. The “important” tab and “starred” email are great for managing more ephemeral issues—such as bookmarking important emails, in the moment, which may not carry significant weight in the long-term.


How Facebook Will Crash and Burn

In Criticism & Review, Digital Communications on June 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm

View Hudson Walking Bridge Poughkeepsie NY If social networks are not fluid, people abandon their core functions. Yesterday, I was taking pictures on the Hudson River and came across a fancy idea.

We saw it happen with MySpace. They were hot, hot hot! Myspace didn’t have their own verb like Google it! and Facebook me but people still said: What’s your Myspace? Then … They crashed and burned, now characterized mostly by talentless bands, spam bots, and pedophiles. But why?

Answer: All of the smart people moved on.

Jeff Jarvis and Mark Zuckerberg both speak of adding to the value of a community, for reasons why a network lives to see another day, and this is important and very clearly true. But I think there’s a hidden trend at work here, too.

Trend: You need to keep the smart people.

Remember: you don’t own them, they own you. But you need to keep them. All the smart people left Myspace for better communities like Facebook and Twitter. Myspace didn’t change. (They tried to and failed.) A fixed object can only stand still in an ocean for so long, without reinvigorating its energy.

Recent discussions with “smart” people have revealed the [above] trend. Here are common responses:

  • I am using Facebook much less than I used to
  • I use it to share my work only
  • I stopped using it all together

The “smart” people are either becoming niche-y and picky with how they use Facebook or have stopped using it all together. This is important. Why does this happen?

Less tech-savvy people are still bickering with one another via Facebook over plagues that haven’t affected forward-thinkers in new digital culture for a couple decades. This is where the gaze is now; this is where they focus their attention–They are distracted by each other.

We either find things we don’t like or we get bored with their use. After you have provided “elegant organization” to a community, you need to figure out how to keep pushing that envelope to create a sustainable business / social network.

The U.S. is trending toward a Freelance World which I think shifts attention of Facebook users, indirectly. I’m finding that I–along with people I interact with in new media and tech industries–cannot afford to spend time promoting Facebook. (E.g. Feeding them content.) These kinds of people are busy doing our own things.

The collective “we” gives away a lot of our life to things like Facebook in exchange for connectivity. And that’s not a bad thing, except when it affects workflow and productivity. I have decided …. Y’all just need to do the same, to determine if it’s worth it.

If enough smart people reconsider Facebook, the premier social network will crash and burn because intelligence has found a new home. (It’s a good thing they had enough cash to buy Instagram.)

Debate: Internet Civility and Anonymity in Western Culture

In Digital Communications on June 5, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Wales, Keen and Sifry Debate Internet Civility, Anonymity

Partner: Miller Center of Public Affairs
Location: National Press Club | Washington, D.C.
Event Date: 05.18.10
Speakers: Andrew Keen, Farhad Manjoo, Micah Sifry, Paul Solman

I enjoyed Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia:

What I think that we need to recognize is that we have to work for social mechanisms that drive towards quality and thoughtfulness. And that we are still very much at the beginnings of that. We have some hints of it here and there […] Newspapers haven’t figured out how to engage their audiences in a way that is productive. Instead, we have comment boards that are useless angry people that are yelling at each other.

Andrew Keen, entrepreneur and writer, discusses:

  • The Issue of Anonymity, not the Internet
  • Western culture thinks: The Internet is a Right, not a responsibility
  • Jeff Jarvis: The Internet is the Next Society
  • Social contract theory
  • Central fact of social, cultural, and political life in the 21st century
  • Key responsibility in the West: reveal who you are to solve the problem

Micah Sifry, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, makes compelling arguments that suggest anonymity is a double-edged sword. There are circumstantial benefits to anonymity.

Closing Remarks
It’s most beneficial to push these three minds together, without losing form or becoming mush. They all make great arguments and marshal strong evidence to support their claims. We can’t forget they are on the same side: to promote digital and push this culture forward. If we combined all perspectives, [and were able to execute and pull it off] the Internet might be a utopia.

Imagine a culture that embraces social mechanisms to promote quality, thoughtfulness, and responsibility while still enabling the present nodes of communication, especially the freedom to post anonymously.

The nature of digital is a constant state of flux, which means it’s difficult to grasp exactly how to communicate. I like to call the places we communicate: joints, as a knee or elbow but much more flexible and durable. These joints allow us to interpret language and construct meaning. We’re all learning along the way. A little patience might help us, and go a long way.

The full video and story is featured at | Debate: The Internet and Democracy.

How To: Get More Out of List-Serves In Your Organization

In Digital Communications on June 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Hello everyone,

Let’s kick-off June with a nice and neat digital communications post! I came across some old writing of mine and after some tweaking I thought it might be useful to some of you–for business or personal use. Below are a set of problems I ran into with list-serves. There are corresponding solutions in the latter section.

Why list-serves can be problematic:

  • List-serves are free-flowing by nature. We need rules of play to maximize potential and productivity. However, constructing limitations without restricting ideas and progress can be tricky. Exercise caution.
  • Making e-mail informal. If a list-serve has 30 people on it and there is not a formal code to govern its users then the list-serve can easily become a wasteland of ideas.
  • The conversational appeal. People lose sight of topics, go off on tangents, and devalue ideas when there is an ongoing conversation. There needs to be a cap or limit. When you lose form and accept loose forms of communication, productivity and potential decrease.
  • Lower quality of information. Everyone has their two-cents to drop in the bucket. Kindly, ask yourself is this contributing to the discussion? Every message should have a point, an intention—make sure yours is on par with the environment of your list-serve and your audience.
  • Lower levels of information retention. People naturally want and feel the need to be heard. This is gladly accepted in most cases, as long as it is useful. Opinions should benefit the group or discussion. Be mindful of your actions.
  • They promote spam. Everyone on the list-serve may be colleagues or friends, but messaging can also lead to spamming. Unwarranted messaging or inappropriate conversation can be the demise of a list-serve.
  • Loss of information. If the five bullet-points above are not moderated, it will be at the cost of valuable information. When communicating via e-mail on a list-serve be mindful of your key points, your writing (e.g. when a sentence has reached its optimal carrying capacity), and your audience in mind.

How to create a useful list-serve:

  • Create a set of rules and moderate activity. Also, find a way to enforce the rules if necessary. Weigh your options. Consider a formal, more contractual, agreement strategy and a strategy that feels natural to all parties. Each list-serve environment is different and will require a different approach. You don’t want a jungle of untamed messages, nor do you want complete silence.
  • Have a clear purpose when creating a message. In your head, visualize what you will be doing before you begin drafting a message. Thinking it through makes sure you stay on track. Remember, there is a certain level of permanence to writing a message on a list-serve. Everyone will view your post so it is very important that you are formal and accurate with information, data and details.
  • Always focus on your audience. Regardless of what the message is, exchanging information will not transpire if you do not consider the needs, wants, and attitudes of your peers.
  • Be clear. Your writing and topic(s) should be to the point and easy to understand. If you’re unsure, remember this: complexity can only lead to confusion.
  • Format is important. Following the standard format when writing a message ensures its content will be equally objective. Subject headers, language, and structure all have their place. Make this a list-serve policy.
  • Be open. A list-serve is naturally social—you’re exchanging messages with other people. There could be questions and comments that differ from your opinions. Stay professional and don’t be offensive on the list-serve. Remember, your opinion can be one among many.
  • Use power and command effectively. When in a position of power, use your authority properly and timely. Position yourself correctly when you address your audience. You can perfectly capture an audience to make a strong statement (e.g. persuade) or you can negatively impact your audience (e.g. create disharmony). It is your duty to make sure the list-serve runs smoothly and effectively.

Do you use list-serves? What’s your experience with them? Have any tips about creating a constructive list-serve environment? What irks you the most about list-serves? I would love to hear from you. I’m very interested in hearing your email experience–the follies and greatness.

Times-Picayune Newspaper, Sink or Swim in Digital News

In Digital Communications on May 27, 2012 at 12:56 pm

At 11:59 a.m. this morning Mark Potts tweeted: “WashPost 2nd-day reax story on Times-Picayune is by…the Times-Pic! Do other companies get to cover themselves in WP?” Thanks Mark! Afterward, I browsed Mark’s typepad,, and I recommend a visit.

Onward! The Times-Picayune is a sad story. WaPo reports (If you want to call it that):

New Orleans will be the biggest city in the country without a daily newspaper. The reaction to this wrenching change in New Orleanians’ way of life was a combination of shock, incredulity, anger and sadness, expressed in telephone calls, e-mails, tweets and Facebook (savethepicayune) and at, a Web site that civic activist Anne Milling bought Thursday morning.

First, I knew Washington Post had a sense of humor but I think it is funny WaPo links to another article on their site via For me, the link provided doesn’t match the expected destination the text suggests. (Isn’t it about saving the Picayune?)

More importantly—the original reason why I’m sharing this: I’m all for preserving traditions, but I like seeing old dogs turning to digital for help.

It’s a quiet recognition that digital is where our attention is now. So why not embrace the digital model? The smart papers are embracing digital and moving forward. It’s a rare feat for an organization to be a concrete success in modern culture, because culture is mobile and fluid and changing. The Times Picayune doesn’t need to stop the presses, but in the digital age we’re trending away from the static. If you do it well enough, you can still produce both print and digital copies. I’m sorry you can’t read a physical copy of the newspaper with your chicory coffee, I am. But future you could read the newspaper online with your chicory coffee too.

Addicted to Speed: My Behavior in the Digital Age

In Digital Communications on May 22, 2012 at 8:51 pm

The digital era has made it so that the average human must process more information than ever before. The days when news traveled slowly through a few select sources (think: pre-Web 2.0) is over. I recently read an HBR blog post that approximately said: we’re so used to going fast, due to the ubiquity and high rate-exchange of information online, that we simply can’t slow down. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember the article this was featured in.)

This is a personality trait I struggle with, and I am not alone. I recently had this experience while sitting in the passenger seat of a car, while my friend was driving. The go fast mentality was in full-effect. She stopped at a yellow light, changing to red. I was impatient [and slightly frustrated] with her decision, because we were now stuck at a red light. Note: This is a good, safe decision. Why was I so perturbed? In part, I was feeling this way because it wasn’t my decision to stop, but I’m glad she did. I learned something about myself.

In haste, my first thought was: who likes being stuck at a red light? But it’s OK. I don’t need to be going fast all the time. Slowing down here and there has something to offer us too—just like going fast. Whether it is just to “veg-out” for a moment or to stop and think. It’s easy to forget this, especially when a lot of us spend most of our time online, bonding with each other via screen and keyboard. Conversational notes practiced with clicks and return strokes rather than punctuated voice are normal cues. The online world has become a regular experience and it’s easy for these experiences to permeate our behaviors in the physical landscape.

Our participation with each other via technology affects our participation in real-time face-to-face exchanges. You must remember, though, that you are in control of this. All it takes is to be mindful of your actions. I’ve noticed changes in my own behavior as well as others, particularly because of this blazing speed we’ve become accustomed to. Common symptoms to the speed addiction are: impatience, frustration, and sometimes anger. It’s not intentional and nor is everyone like this, but it happens. You don’t always need to go fast. Fast is nothing without slow, right? We’re dealing with issues of perception. In order to assess fast, we need slow. The same way we need to look at our behaviors in digital platforms and physical environments.

Remember this: The yellow lights are just as important as the green (going) and red (stopping) lights. They are a reminder that we have the will to make decisions and the time to think about them.

Do you have a moment to share where you blew a fuse or short-circuited? Share it below in the comments section of this post.

You’ve Got Mail!

In Digital Communications on February 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Contemporary mail trends in the human experience. Snail mail is making a comeback, for more than just hipsters, in an era where digital communication is an overwhelming experience. We’re drowning in what Tim Ferris calls adding another inbox.

Image Credit: Poofytoo