EmailValet: Managing Email Overload through Private, Accountable Crowdsourcing

Nicolas KokkalisStanford University HCI Group
Thomas Koehn, Stanford University HCI Group
Carl Pfeiffer, Stanford University HCI Group
Dima Chornyi, Stanford University HCI Group
Michael S. Bernstein, Stanford University HCI Group
Scott R. Klemmer, Stanford University HCI Group

EmailValet is a web-based email client that enables crowdsourcing of task management. Given the dangers of handing full control of your inbox to crowd workers, we introduce the valet crowdsourcing approach. Like a valet key, valet interfaces seek a dual objective of parsimony and transparency so that users feel comfortable sharing their own data.

Our goal is to make crowdsourcing applicable to sensitive applications such as email: with traditional email clients, the incoming email volume is overwhelming and causes people to miss important tasks. In EmailValet, crowdsourced assistants from oDesk extract tasks from users’ incoming email. EmailValet’s task list condenses an inbox to actionable items, makes tasks more prominent and easier to track, increases efficiency through task-oriented interactions (rather than co-opting general email primitives, like marking as unread), and focuses attention on the most important emails.

For parsimony, valet interfaces give assistants just enough access to help with most of the work. Users author a whitelist and blacklist of messages to be shared, and the assistant can take no actions besides extracting tasks from emails.

For transparency, each message presents its access status with glanceable icons, and EmailValet provides a viewable log of all assistants’ actions. That way, users have an accurate model of what the assistant can and cannot do, and transgressions will always leave fingerprints.

In our deployments, participants became increasingly comfortable sharing their inbox with the assistants as time went on. Users saw real benefits too: participants completed twice as many  of their email-based tasks when they had access to crowdsourced assistants.
EmailValet’s techniques apply to a broad range of sensitive applications that require sharing private data with crowdsourced assistants: editing, scheduling, purchasing, and more.

Try it:
(by default you have no assistants and everything is set to private, click preferences to apply for an assistant and to share some of your messages with them, or simply play around without assistants)

For more, see our full paper, EmailValet: Managing Email Overload through Private, Accountable Crowdsourcing.


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  • I’m a 4th year grad student. I book 4 flights a year, I collaborate and coordinate with a lot of undergrads, I email my adviser to tell them I’m still alive and they should continue to care about me, I collaborate with folks from other schools or research projects.

    I’m interested in using gmailvalet, butI feel like a lot of this is communication that only I know how to do. What kind of stuff might I expect to get help on?