Time to introduce a Mute Button for Email

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The other day, I tweeted that all emails should have an unsubscribe-button. It was a frustrated reaction to an overflowing inbox filled with persistent sales people and CC-conversations with limited relevance to me.

After giving this some more thought, it’s actually not a bad idea. Email is a moderately good communication tool, given that you use it the right way. Its downfall is that its efficiency relies on a third party to use it correctly. You can keep archiving, tagging, filtering and searching – but if someone else decides to start emailing you with things that you don’t want, it’s still a losing battle.

Since we seem to be stuck with email as a standard, what could be done to improve it? Perhaps the introduction of a mute button. Gmail seems to have had(?) an option earlier, although it used a work-around where it just filtered out the emails and skipped the inbox. That is not fully addressing the problem since it gives the impression to the sender that you’re still on – and should be reading – the thread. This could lead to even more emails with “didn’t you see this?”-messages.

Instead, a nice way would be to simply mute on two levels – a conversation level and a person level. On the former, it would remove you from To/CC entirely and send a message to the thread saying;

“Thanks for including me in this thread so far, but I believe the discussion has reached the stage where my participation is no longer needed.”

Or something like that. Something nice, anyway. It is important with the feedback to the sender to manage expectations.

Muting on a person level is of course a little more complicated. Muting someone’s email address entirely can of course by gamed by creating aliases and so forth, but it would nevertheless be a better solution than we have today.

Sales people often email without having a prior confirmation of interest from the recipient. I think once is fair game – sometimes they are offering something interesting – but on the third or forth time, it gets tiring. It simply isn’t reasonable that anyone should have the right to email me several times if I do not wish to receive his/her emails. So you would mute them, if this continued.

Again, it would notify the sender that this has happened, and then the channel would be blocked for further interaction. This should, if nothing else, make the sales people more careful about what they send since they don’t want to be muted straight away. That would be a good thing since it puts the power back where it belongs – the receiver of the emails. The person who is spending their own time managing the flow of information coming in.

Gmail seems to be the most suitable industry player to try to change this – as a labs extension if nothing else. Or perhaps there is already something like this out there? If so, please let me know in the comments.

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