Untangling the Email Maze

This Sunday’s New York Times snuck a wonderful article into the Week in Review section — “Enron Offers an Unlikely Boost to Email Surveillance” addresses a Johns Hopkins University study of about a half million email messages sent within the organization. While the security and surveillance is the least interesting aspect as far as I’m concerned, two other angles do intrigue.

One, the image of how the email transmissions clustered. What leaders sent the most? The least? Separating executives into roughly three tiers, researchers could easily identify who the communication nodes were, and where notable changes in email behavior occurred. The knowledge mapping aspect is fascinating. I’d love to see Fast Company‘s staff represented thusly. Who works with whom? Who answers the most questions? Who askes the most?

That leads to the second angle of interest… the research team has yet to do a content study of the messages — what keywords are used the most, and how — but the implications of being able to analyze such data raises some fascinating questions. What challenges arise most often? How do people frame debate? How do the words we use reflect how we feel about our work?