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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Nearly 15 Percent of Work Email Is Gossip

According to some estimates, the average corporate email user sends 112 emails every day. About one out of every seven of those messages, says a new study from Georgia Tech, can be called gossip.

Assistant Professor Eric Gilbert of the School of Interactive Computing examined hundreds of thousands of emails from the former Enron corporation and found that—by the definition of “gossip” as messages that contain information about a person or persons not among the recipients—14.7 percent of the emails qualify as office scuttlebutt. What’s more, Gilbert found that gossip is prevalent at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, though lower levels gossip the most. (Click here to watch a YouTube video about this research.)

“Gossip gets a bad rap,” said Gilbert, an expert in social computing who runs the Comp.Social Lab at Georgia Tech. “When you say ‘gossip,’ most people immediately have a negative interpretation, but it’s actually a very important form of communication.

Even tiny bits of information, like ‘Eric said he’d be late for this meeting,’ add up; after just a few of those messages, you start to get an impression that Eric is a late person. Gossip is generally how we know what we know about each other, and for this study we viewed it simply as a means to share social information.”

Still, another finding was that “negative” gossip, characterized through a Natural Language Text Processing analysis, was in fact 2.7 times more prevalent than positive gossip, though a significant portion of the messages were sentiment-neutral. The findings, according to Gilbert and Ph.D. student Tanushree Mitra, represent an important test of anthropological theories about gossip in what can reasonably be called the world’s most popular electronic social medium: email.

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Posted by Craig Jones on 06/07/12 at 11:44 AM

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