The Loh Down On Science

Enron Mail

Did Enron inspire Gossip Girl?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Eric Gilbert, an Interactive Computing professor and professional busybody at Georgia Tech University. He recently analyzed 500,000 e-mails from the notorious and now defunct Enron Corporation, made public after their use in court cases.

The e-mails range from water-cooler gossip to high-level discussions.

Gilbert filtered the e-mails through software that identified popular terms. Then he compared those to an org chart, noting who said what to whom.

Result? Enron employees e-mailed very differently to underlings than to bosses. E-mails sent down Enron's org chart favored the terms "you gave" "title" and "need in." Upward e-mails favored "voice mail," "driving," and "o.k." Surprise popular word to bosses? "Kitchen." Or maybe not surprising, for a company cooking the books.

Gilbert calculated that the odds the repeats were due to chance was less than one in 1,000.

He says the data could help design new e-mail sorting tools, like letting the boss's e-mails come through first.

And automatically inserting obsequious flattery into the responses! Just an idea.



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