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Gossip comprises huge chunk of corporate emails: Study

Last Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 12:31

Washington: The average corporate email user sends 112 emails every day and one out of every seven of those messages can be called "gossip," says a new study.

Eric Gilbert, assistant professor at Georgia Tech`s School of Interactive Computing, US, examined hundreds of thousands of emails from the former Enron Corporation.

Gilbert found that - by the definition of "gossip" as messages that contain information about a person or persons not among the recipients - nearly 15 percent of the emails qualify as office scuttlebutt.

What`s more, Gilbert, an expert in social computing, found that gossip is prevalent at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, though lower levels gossip the most. "Gossip gets a bad rap," he added, according to a Georgia Tech statement.

Still, another finding was that "negative" gossip, characterised 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 doctoral 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.

"A recent survey of that literature summarised gossip as having four main purposes: information, entertainment, intimacy and influence. We found evidence of all those categories in the Enron emails, relating to both business and personal relationships."

"Enron certainly had what could be called a `cowboy culture,` but I suspect the way they behaved internally to each other did not differ significantly from most other US corporations," Gilbert said.

Indeed, the Enron corpus - some 600,000 messages purchased following the company`s bankruptcy and now made freely available for study - represents the world`s largest publicly accessible body of naturally occurring emails.

It has provided grist for numerous scientific and technical advances.

For example, Gilbert said, email spam filters took a huge leap forward in efficiency in 2005 due largely to advancements made from analysing the Enron corpus.

Gilbert`s and Mitra`s findings were presented at the sixth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM `12) at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.


First Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012 - 12:29
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