There were some good comments to the last post about broken email, which caused me to think a little more about what the problem is (the solution, if there is one, will require a careful description of the problem). And the first thing to observe is that there is really more than one cause to the problem of email overload.
One factor that makes email hard to deal with is the structural underpinning of email. We could spend a lot of time laying all of this out (and I certainly invite people to do so in the comments). Here are a couple of quick observations: (1) email was not designed with authentication in mind (which is one reason that spam and spoofing are so easy to do), and so it makes it hard to keep out noise; (2) most email programs handle each email conversation as separate communications, and have no way of grouping related conversations together (gmail does keep related conversations together in 'threads'); (3) even in 'threaded conversations' it's not feasible to add a new participant to the conversation in a way that allows the person to read all the communications that have occurred before they got involved.
Google Wave was created with the idea of addressing these structural problems. I have been playing with it for a few weeks, and I can see where it would be very useful in creating better structure around group conversations that are presently happening in email. There are, of course, other ways for these kinds of group conversations to occur other than in email (i.e. online services such as Basecamp or other project management tools). But most people think of email as the way to collaborate, and so Google Wave is trying to fix the structural problems of email so that the collaboration aspect can be improved.
It's way too early to make any assessments about Google Wave, other than the assessment that it would be more useful if more people were using it. A collaboration tool that only a few people can use (because Google Wave is in pre-beta stage) is necessarily limited. Welcome to 'Advanced Obviousness 101.'
So while we are waiting for Google Wave to come out of its cocoon and then find out how much of the email overload problem it can solve what else can we focus on?
I think that the other part of the email problem is social. It's way too easy to send someone an email, and there is no way for the sender to know how busy the recipient is when the email is sent. Spammers don't care how busy you are, but that's another story. The net result is that many people's email inbox is larded with communications from people who seek little bits of information. The sender doesn't have any sense of how many of these little 'request chunks' are already taking up the recipient's time. And time is finite, at least in the human sense of 'doing work.'
I don't know that any 'technological tool' can fix this problem. Maybe it's possible to create a massive online status light for each person. But are people going to accept this convention? Are they going to modify their behavior and send people less email when they can detect that the person is busy? I don't know the answers to these questions. I just know that a lot of people have trouble with their email, and in many cases it's not just because they are 'poor information managers.'
When you have someone who is adept at using technology and willing to try all the techniques that help sort and filter email, and yet they still are not keeping up, then you have a problem that's not rooted in poor organization skills. It's rooted in the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with email. Maybe it's a technical problem, or maybe it's a problem with how everyone uses email.
What do you think? Do you have problems sometimes with email overload? Have you been able to diminish the problem? If so, how? Do you know other people who have problems that are similar to yours? Have you conquered the email overload problem and achieved a state of supreme bliss? If so, please leave a trail of breadcrumbs.