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IBM Gets Into Semantics With New E-Mail Search Tool

Heavy e-mail users sometimes have trouble finding the needle of information they need in the haystacks of old missives lingering in their in-boxes. That’s the sort of user IBM has targeted with its new OmniFind Personal E-Mail Search (IOPES) tool.

Rolled out Thursday, IOPES is a free, semantics-based search tool designed to make searching the “vast personal database” that is most people’s inbox easier by identifying the most relevant information in a search query and extrapolating what the user is attempting to find, according to IBM.

“With gigabytes of e-mail storage readily available to nearly everyone, e-mail has evolved from a simple communication tool into a personal database where we retain vast amounts of valuable information,” said Douglas Wilson, distinguished engineer and chief technology officer of Lotus.

IOPES for Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes is available at no charge through IBM’s AlphaWorks site.

Search Grid

Developed jointly by researchers at IBM labs in California, Israel and India, IOPES offers more refined search capabilities than a simple keyword search. Instead, the e-mail search tool uses semantic technology that can interpret incomplete queries and make associations based on the underlying meaning of words frequently used in corporate e-mails.

The software was created using IBM’s Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA), an open source software framework that helps organizations build new analysis technologies. Companies are able to realize more value from their unstructured information by discovering relationships, identifying patterns and predicting outcomes, according to IBM.

The technology works, IBM said, by intelligently matching a query against predefined concepts — such as persons, phone numbers, addresses, meetings, presentations, documents or schedules — and relationships amongst these concepts — such as a person’s phone number or address.

To accomplish this, IBM researchers compiled an index of keywords typically found in business e-mails and then created a list of concepts and relationships among those terms. That data was built into IOPES so that when a user enters a query — for example for “Bob address” — the application first runs through its index of terms and relationships to return the most accurate results.

Users can further refine IOPES’ search functionality by adding their own user-defined concepts using the tagger utility that can be shared between individuals and used to create a more personalized search system, according to IBM.

Semantically Speaking

Creating better search tools based on semantics has been a widely talked-about goal for online search engines. However, less work has been done in the areas of desktops, e-mail and other data searches, leaving users to struggle with keyword searches.

“This is a good thing. It’s good to see that someone is bringing this into the e-mail or desktop search category,” said Kenneth Poore, a Forrester Research analyst. “The industry in general has been kind of underserved by the keyword-based search tools that Microsoft has with their Windows Desktop Search, and of course Google has their desktop search.”

The problem with the current generation of desktop and e-mail searches is that they are “so literal and so keyword-based” that they are “not hitting the mark, and a lot of users are coming away a little disenchanted with the dearth of capability” in those products, Poore told TechNewsWorld.

“They want more of ‘do what I mean’ or ‘find what I want’ kind of searches rather than find exactly what I type in,” he continued. “IBM has done a lot of work with semantic analysis. Doing semantic search for e-mail really opens that up. Being able to go out and do more conceptual searching instead of literal searching adds a lot of value.”

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