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Do we need an app to make e-mail more civil? Apparently, yes

Ever get the sneaking suspicion that no one is reading your e-mails?

It could be a case of overflowing inbox syndrome on the receiver's end. Or maybe, just maybe, you're in the habit of sending rambling screeds at all times of day - the digital equivalent of the guy at the party who won't shut up.

Fortunately, there's an app for that.

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Courteous.ly, a new service for Gmail users, aims to make e-mail senders more considerate.

Given access to your Gmail account, the tool analyzes your e-mail patterns, including your unread message count, and determines your current level of e-mail traffic, Mashable.com reports.

Then, using the tool, you can encourage friends, acquaintances - and your mom - to e-mail at a more convenient time. After receiving a link from Courteous.ly, contacts in your address book can check to see whether your inbox is already swamped. You can also choose to have one-line e-mails sent to the top of your inbox.

Courteous.ly developer Eric Gilbert, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, explained the rationale.

"I think we're really good at the etiquette part when we have the cues that allow us to be polite," he told Mashable. "Courteous.ly helps manage expectations and lets people choose to send mail when it's best for you."

In return, presumably, friends are rewarded with responses in a quick and courteous fashion (that means no typos, "yelling" in all caps or e-mails that lack a gracious greeting or close, according to the faux pas listed at 101emailetiquettetips.com).

It all sounds very nice, in theory. But Courteous.ly overlooks a crucial point: As a mode of communication, e-mail has been passé for at least three years, The Globe and Mail reported back in 2009.

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And good luck getting Facebook and Twitter users to staunch the message flow.

How would you go about improving e-mail etiquette? Is it a moot point in the Facebook age?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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