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I'm ashamed to admit that I just discovered the "subscribe to tags and receive email notifications" mechanism. Until now I always imagined people just browse for (new) questions that they can answer, especially since being a fast gun makes a difference.

It's not the first time similar issues are brought up on Meta (see for instance here and here). However, I have a feeling that both the user interface and the community have matured significantly in the meantime, so I'm guessing by now people have clear preferences for one way of working or another.

To what extent are answerers "actively" engaging in SO (browsing for questions, with or without the help of favourite tags or other such filters) versus "passively" waiting for new questions to present themselves (e.g., via email, where the earliest one can get notified is 15 minutes after the question)? Is there any data about this? Did anyone research the issue?

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Not sure why you're getting close votes, since you are asking for data and not just opinions. My suspicion is that this is largely based on tags. It wouldn't really be effective to get email notifications on C#, Java, or a number of other popular tags. We seem to get only about 2 or 3 Scheme questions a day though, so email notifications might work well for that tag (for just one example). – Bill the Lizard Jul 8 '13 at 12:05
Microsoft study referenced here claimed that "once their work had been interrupted by an e-mail notification, people took, on average, 24 minutes to return to the suspended task". I would conjecture that this interruption time makes subscriptions implausible for high-volume tags (unless special care is taken of postponing the incoming mails). – Alexander Serebrenik Jul 8 '13 at 12:34

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