What Mailbox limits reveal

Grainne posted recently about the frustration of continually getting the ‘Your mailbox is over its size limit’ in our OU email accounts. I can’t tell you how annoying this – sometimes I am just trying to send a quick response to someone before I have to dash out of the door, but it won’t let me because I have to find and delete any attachment over 2K to free up space. Grrrr.


This isn’t OU bashing, I’ve heard the same from people at other universities and also people not in higher education (I know, they do exist apparently). It’s a small thing but it reveals a number of more important issues:

i) In a time when free email accounts offer gigs of storage, why do institutional services offer a poorer service. Is this another argument for the loosely coupled, or at least outsourced systems (as an aside, good to see Niall and Tony making up over their debate around this).

ii) It portrays a top-down attitude from IT providers to how we should use their systems. I am told when I complain that I shouldn’t use my inbox as a filing system and I should make offline folders. Wrong, I should use them in whatever way is convenient to me (and see next point about filing).

iii) It is a classic example of Weinberger’s distinction between filtering on the way in and filtering on the way out. IT people want me to filter on the way in, that is to save messages to appropriate folders. I want to filter on the way out, that is to search for emails according to different criteria. Faced with information overload, filtering on the way out is the best solution.

So the next time you get a mailbox full message, give them points i) to iii). Then quietly set about deleting your messages.


  • Liam Green-Hughes

    Reading you post I can’t help thinking there are two problems here: 1. A communication problem between “IT people” and end users (I’m in the former category btw!) and 2. Email as a technology is struggling to cope with the demands placed on it. Firstly all systems are run by “IT people” no matter who owns them, and only good communication and team work can bring out a satisfactory outcome for both parties. As an “IT person” I have noticed how divisive an “us and them” approach can be, with a danger that arrive at a mutually acceptable solution becomes impossible, both sides can be guilty of this. Secondly, is the real problem with email accounts the lack of space or the inefficiency of the technology? Email is very annoying, it wastes space, you send an attachment to five people and it stores it five times. You can’t tag incoming items. You can lose the thread of a discussion easily. It doesn’t automatically categorise incoming mails (I know you can add rules, but that often isn’t powerful enough). The list can go on and on. Is it possible to ever have an email inbox that is big enough to escape these frustrations or is it time to improve email as a system so it more efficiently copes with the way we work?

  • Martin

    Liam – sorry, didn’t mean to propogate an us and them attitude – I get on well with ‘IT people’. But really, data storage in this day shouldn’t be an issue, and I think the response to more email storage does reveal some (I’ll never forgive myself for using this term) web 1.0 attitudes.
    AJ – yes, I can sort of – but all of my official traffic comes through this email and so I can forward that easily enough, but I’d have to get others to use different systems for file sharing (as in the next post).
    Grainne – you see what happens when you start a rant off!

  • Jed Cawthorne

    Bottom line is, email was not meant for the uses we are putting to. It was certainly not meant as a document management system – whether thats massive storage “folders in the inbox” or MS advice busting 2GB .pst files.
    Sure, IT should be a service unit and provide its users what they want – but within reason. Perhaps the actual budget holder would argue about the cheapness of storage ? Why do we file email at all ? Lets all use IM, telephone, face to face, web conferencing and relegate email to the electronic version of an ‘official letter’ 🙂

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