Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Rational Or Random? Professor Models How People Send E-mails

Date:
November 20, 2008
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
How do people respond to e-mails? Rationally, responding to the most important first, making sure the process is efficient? Or randomly, when they are at their computers or when they have time, without any regard to efficiency? After studying e-mails sent and received from more than 3,000 e-mail accounts at a European university over a three-month period,scientists created a mathematical model that shows people send e-mail randomly, but in cycles.

In the last 10 years, e-mail has gone from a novelty to a necessity. What was once a pastime is now an essential form of communication, with many people opening their inboxes to find dozens of e-mails waiting.

Related Articles


But how do people respond to those e-mails? Do they act rationally, responding to the most important first, making sure the process is efficient? Or do they send e-mails randomly, when they are at their computers or when they have time, without any regard to efficiency?

These are questions that Luís Amaral, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, and his collaborators set out to answer. After studying e-mails sent and received from more than 3,000 e-mail accounts at a European university during a three-month period, they created a mathematical model that shows people send e-mail randomly, but in cycles.

The findings are published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Amaral said he was inspired to create such an e-mail model after a recent paper said that the rational model -- where people respond to e-mails in the most efficient way -- was the correct model.

"I was not convinced, since I don't do it in a rational way," he said. But if a random model was correct, there would be a typical interval between e-mails -- which, when Amaral looked at the data, wasn't the case. He wondered if it was possible for people to send e-mail randomly but still have non-random intervals where they didn't send e-mail.

The answer, it turned out, was fairly simple: People don't send e-mails when they are sleeping.

"During the day, you send e-mails, but then you go home, or go away for the weekend, and you don't send e-mails," he said. "These data were from a few years ago, and in Europe, this was especially the case, since many people didn't have the Internet at home."

The result was a model in which people send e-mails at random, but the probability of them sending e-mails during a given period depended on what that period was. If it was in the middle of the night, the probability was near zero. If it was during the weekend, the probability was much lower than during weekdays.

"The model explains all the data, and it shows that people have cycles in which they use certain services," Amaral says. "You can then make predictions based on those cycles to know when people are going to request a service. Even though it's random, there are peaks in demand that don't look random."

Other businesses and services could use such a model.

"If you know how people access that service, you can better plan how much capacity you need, when you need it, and how to best engineer your system to supply that capacity," Amaral said. "It also teaches you how to interact with the system -- a good time to send an e-mail is just about the time that the person has arrived at work."

Other authors of the paper include R. Dean Malmgren (lead author) and Daniel B. Stouffera, both graduate students, and Adilson E. Motter, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, all of Northwestern University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Rational Or Random? Professor Models How People Send E-mails." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081119122630.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2008, November 20). Rational Or Random? Professor Models How People Send E-mails. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081119122630.htm
Northwestern University. "Rational Or Random? Professor Models How People Send E-mails." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081119122630.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Computers & Math News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Building Google Into Cars

Building Google Into Cars

Reuters - Business Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) — Google's next Android version could become the standard that'll power your vehicle's entertainment and navigation features, Reuters has learned. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
After Sony Hack, What's Next?

After Sony Hack, What's Next?

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 19, 2014) — The hacking attack on Sony Pictures has U.S. government officials weighing their response to the cyber-attack. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) — The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
How 2014 Shaped The Future Of The Internet

How 2014 Shaped The Future Of The Internet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) — It has been a long, busy year for Net Neutrality. The stage is set for an expected landmark FCC decision sometime in 2015. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins