Summary: The goal of Flashmail research was to investigate the nature of time-dependent electronic messages and to evaluate one form of tool support for such messages. Flashmail, to our knowledge, was the earliest implementation of an “instant messaging system”.

Although e-mail has many strengths as a computer-mediated communication (CMC) tool, it also has weaknesses. One problem with e-mail is lack of support for time-dependent messages—messages whose usefulness expires after a short period of time when they are not read. For example, say that you want to hold a meeting with colleagues in one hour. You can send them e-mail, but you have no guarantee that everyone will read their e-mail within the hour. Furthermore, if one of the recipients does not read their mail before the meeting time, the message no longer serves any purpose and simply clutters up their mailbox.

Flashmail is an Egret-based tool that transfers messages between a small, pre-selected group of people, and can virtually guarantee that a message sent to group members will be seen immediately in certain situations. It consists of two basic capabilities: a menu-based mechanism that shows whether members of the group are actively using their workstation, and a message facility that pops up a window on their workstation screen with a message.

Flashmail was evaluated via a case study designed to test the conditions under which user would choose Flashmail or traditional email for communication. Data collection occurred from March 11 through April 15, 1996, and the participants were the members of the Collaborative Software Development Laboratory (CSDL).

We collected data on hundreds of email and Flashmail messages during the study period. For each email or Flashmail message, we collected the time and date when the message was sent, who the senders and receivers were, the time and date at which a reply to a previous message was sent, and the buffer sizes of these messages.

We found that Flashmail messages tend to be short (under 300 characters), and that Flashmail messages receive replies much more rapidly than e-mail.

Principal researcher(s): Jennifer Geis

Publications: Citations and publications

Project Page: Not available

Status: Active development 1995 – 1996.