Reinventing Email Through Analytics, One Inbox at a Time

Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Building on big data ideas such as machine learning and predictive analytics, vendors are busy building the inbox of tomorrow
  • But don’t expect a radically different user experience. It will look a lot like the inbox of today — only minus the usual hateful elements and much, much smarter

The last time I checked, which was about ten seconds ago, which was itself about 60 seconds before the previous time I checked, email still sucks. And I’m sure it will continue in that vein another 50 seconds from now, when I again feel habitually compelled (or when a mobile alert instructs me) to inquire as to the current state of my world, which is wrapped up neatly within the messy confines of my inbox.

As we all know, this madness must end. About five years ago communications-savvy vendors such as Cisco and other vendors dedicated to enterprise social networking, concurred with the above sentiment and predicted the death of email all together with the inbox being replaced by a searchable, contextually aware, sharable event stream. Obviously that didn’t happen.

As with all things cyclical, it looks as though change is once again at hand thanks to the use of some big data ideas such as machine learning and predictive analytics. By applying some basic statistical models to the inbox, major vendors are now seeking to create a unified dashboard where new communiques (and other forms of communication such as chat, videos, social updates, etc.) are brought to our attention only when and if they are relevant to what we’re doing.

That’s the basic idea behind IBM’s newly announced reinvention of IBM Notes Mail, now called IBM Verse. Think of Verse as having a tiny set of triage doctors and nurses busily evaluating all of our email messages, to-do lists, meeting invitations, appointments, files, connections with others, ad infinitum, and then deciding how best to organize and bring those to our attention. Now when your boss sends you a surprise calendar invite 20 minutes ahead of time, you need not worry about losing that message amid the usual inbox noise, for example. Because it’s from your boss; because it’s something happening right now; because perhaps it’s a meeting about your own project, Verse will seek to ensure you don’t miss it.

It will be interesting to see how these ideas play out within IBM’s still substantial user base for Notes. My impression after being briefed on Verse is that once IBM moves more fully to the cloud and thereafter more freely combines elements from Verse, Connections, and most importantly technologies built within the IBM Watson Group, we will see some highly differentiated capabilities enter the marketplace.

The success of such enterprise-oriented objectives, believe it or not, I think will hinge upon the consumer marketplace, where vendors Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Amazon, Facebook, et al. are busily putting analytics to work for users, seeking to distill meaning from the chaos of our modern, electronic lifestyle. These vendors are using tools like Google Now and Inbox (an email client very closely aligned with IBM Verse in its objectives and toolset), Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri, et al. to predict our needs based upon our activities. What I find enticing about these is that they are not trying to reinvent how we do things by doing away with the venerable inbox, for example. Instead, they’re simply hoping to make those tools smarter and in so doing make our lives easier and better. That’s the best kind of reinvention.

What do you think?

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