Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

Summary: I've had several discussions with my Twitter pals over the last year about how being forced to fit our thoughts into 140 characters or less has made us slightly more succinct elsewhere. For me, quite frankly, that is a miracle.

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TOPICS: Collaboration
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I've had several discussions with my Twitter pals over the last year about how being forced to fit our thoughts into 140 characters or less has made us slightly more succinct elsewhere. For me, quite frankly, that is a miracle. I'm someone who may be considered to be... loquacious.

I never considered how I might purposefully apply the style of microblogging to my life in more useful ways. Then last week one of my online pals, Hutch Carpenter, posted the following Tweet:

Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

This launched us into a discussion about how we -- and those reading our thoughts -- might benefit from us being concise across the board. Especially in the work environment where we all receive more email than we really need. And, let's face it, half of what people write in emails just gets scanned over anyway. Why not take this 140-character succinctness out for a professional spin?

We came up with the "2009 email brevity challenge", or what has sometimes been called "micro-emailing." Both Hutch and I have committed to scaling back our work communications to be as close to 140 characters as possible -- for the whole year. Yes, the whole year. We understand that some emails need to be longer than 140 characters (I'm not sure my boss would appreciate it if I sent her multiple 140-character emails when she needs a detailed project report). For the rest of the emails, however, we're going to try and give our co-workers' weary eyeballs a break. More than that, we are going to start logging these communications and tracking monthly the average number of a characters we use in our sent work-related emails. I'll post monthly reports here on this blog.

Everyone is welcome to join us. If you're interested, leave a comment here or email me via the form below or send me an @ on Twitter. I'll start a list at the bottom of this blog of everyone participating and each month when we log our time, I'll include all of your results as well.

Who's coming with us?

Participants:

Topic: Collaboration

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12 comments
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  • SMS Limit too abritrary

    Isn't the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter a relic of the GSM set of standards from the 20th century (1985 if Wikipedia is to be believed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_message_service

    I remember when Ma Bell charged exorbitant rates for any call exceeding 2 minutes. Perhaps we should also limit voice communications to two minutes!

    So if my emails are 140 chars and I talk in 2 minute increments. Whatever do I do with all that spare time!

    -- Dan
    Olderdan
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    140 char is silly-short. 512 is often too short; message space of 4k ( 1 page ) makes better sense and in today's computing machinery even 4k is trivial.
    mike acker
  • Does that include spaces?

    Since typically about 15-20% of writing is spaces...

    Also, are you including headers and signature blocks?

    Lastly, I'm very interested in how you are going to collect/track this.
    TaDaH
  • The loss of proper writing

    I'm not an English scholar, but the lack of decent writing already permeates everything we read.

    While succinct communication would be a plus, let's not sacrifice our language just to meet an arbitrary character limit. I might limit an email to the following:

    -2 sentences per paragraph
    -3 paragraph limit
    -No "how are you"
    -No "check out my twitter http://...."
    -No "joke of the day" or "saying of the day"
    -No custom signatures or emoticons

    Keep your text messages short, but please allow punctuation and proper sentence structure to infiltrate your emails. Your co-workers won't mind reading a few properly formed emails longer than 140 characters.
    coffeeshark
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    OK I'll give it a go for a week, see how I get on, and work from there. I rarely commit to something entirely which I may have doubts upon. So I'll see how I get on and report back soldier!

    Happy new year Jen :)
    zwhittaker
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    Why stop at email? Why not make your interactions with your spouse one dimensional and terse? I mean, who needs color anyway? What roles do nuance and eloquence have in a world where being downright curt is prized?

    While we're at it, why don't we just winnow the English language into nouns and verbs. Adjectives are mostly subjective, so let's get rid of them. Don't even get me started on adverbs.

    Or we could realize that we're simply trying to do too much, in too many places, at the same time. We're dumber and less colorful as a result.

    Twitter version of above comment: Tech making people more impatient/terse, less thorough and thoughtful. (170 characters)
    memery26
    • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

      So are you in?
      bhc3
    • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

      I doubt much work email is brimming with subtle eloquence and delicate nuance. Memery26, I think you miss her point.

      My time in the office is limited. I appreciate emails that get to the point and allow me to continue with my work!
      lisaeaton
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    140 chars or not, I've worked 30+ years in big corporations and already understand it's key to get your main content in the 1st para anyway
    walkesp
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    I'm in.
    aaronstrout
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    Great post, as usual. I'm currently taking a writing course geared towards this exact concept. The first night the teacher said that sentences should be no longer than 12 words - paragraphs only 3-4 sentences. The entire course is designed to help the writer discovery that conciseness will allow you to -> keep the reader, giving a better chance for the reader to -> get the Message. Should be challenging, wish me luck! :)
    hkremer
  • RE: Micro-emailing: The 2009 email brevity challenge

    I'm in. Sounds wonderful to keep things quick and simple.
    Will.Conner