Intentional Information Fragmentation in Email Management

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Virginia Tech


Personal Information Management (PIM) studies the practice of storing, organizing, and retrieving information by an individual in support of their roles and tasks (Bergman, et al., 2004). One important problem in PIM is information fragmentation (IF) — the condition of having data in different formats, distributed across multiple locations, manipulated by different applications, and residing in a generally disconnected manner (Tungare, 2007). IF can conflict with the PIM ideal that users should have access to the right information at the right time, in the right place, in the right form, and of sufficient completeness and quality to perform the task at hand (Bergman, et al., 2004). It is typically assumed that IF is unintentional, and occurs as a result of the many applications and devices we use to do our daily work. It is further assumed that IF is "bad" or has negative consequences. In this thesis, I study when IF occurs intentionally. Intentional IF (IIF) refers to the fragmentation in PIM that occurs when a person fragments his or her own personal data purposefully. Although research into the problem of IF has been growing quickly in the past decade, IIF has not been investigated in the literature. Prior studies have portrayed IF as a problematic type of information management. Email is a common context in which IF is found. While IF in email may be unintentional, such as when required by an employer, it is also likely to be intentional, as is the case when users use separate email accounts for different purposes. To further the research in this field, this project investigated the phenomenon of IIF in email by conducting and analyzing data from an online survey. In addition to finding the extent of IIF in email, the survey addressed what motivates the participant to purposely fragment their email as well as the advantages and disadvantages in doing so. My study is the first that has explored intentional fragmentation of information. The findings of this study show that IIF exists in email usage, revealing that IIF occurs across a user's devices and also across a user's multiple email accounts. The two most common motivations for IIF are to keep information separated by the user's social roles (work, school, personal communications, etc.), and to filter out extraneous information in order to simplify their information management. These results show that in addition to the negative consequences of IF there also exists positive uses of IF, that is helpful for some users.



Personal Information Management, Information Fragmentation, Email