Interesting approach (per Peter). But some points to consider regarding any enterprise application:
- This is not new - expertise automation systems (e.g., Tacit) have attempted mine e-mail as a source of corporate knowledge for some time. Vendors that try to suggest relationship networks do this as well (e.g., Contact Networks). Microsoft's Knowledge Network will include some analysis of e-mail patterns.
- There are credible concerns regarding privacy and confidentiality. As I recall, in some countries, privacy regulations prevent mining of e-mail. Even without specific guidance, management should be concerned that employees will see this as unwarranted surveillance without proper limitations. For instance, mining the contact information (sender, receiver) vs. the content body, might be more acceptable.
- "Knowledge in e-mail' is a very old argument - valid - but perhaps more elusive than one might imagine. As our channels become more fragmented (e-mail, workspaces, instant messaging, blogs, wikis, etc.), the challenge becomes exponentially more difficult as "threads" cross channels. e-Mail however remains (for better or worse) the poison of choice for most corporate communication.
Some vertical or situational applications around this technology might evolve as well. For instance: use of MarkMail as part of a discovery process (per legal or regulatory investigation), mining customer e-Mails sent into the Call Center to discovery common trends (e.g., complaints on a product).
- It's semi-structured, and we love working against semi- and un-structured information. E-mail has some clear metadata (e.g., author, subject, send-date) and plenty of free text, both in the body copy and in the metadata fields (e.g., thread topic) themselves.
- It's easily converted to XML.
- It's ubiquitous. Everybody uses it.
- There are lots of free, public mailing lists that contain lots of valuable information -- on topics from wine to Tomcat and everything in between.
- Most important, e-mail is -- as Mike Moritz of Sequoia Capital once said -- the new corporate knowledgebase.
To expand the last point. If I told you that you could go to one place -- and only place -- to learn about a company, where would you go? To their corporate data warehouse? To their knowledgebase? To their financial systems? To their sales and CRM systems?
Personally, I'd go to their e-mail. Despite years of attempts to systemize it, knowledge has eluded capture and evaded knowledge management systems. Knowledge, it seems, instead resides in e-mail and collaboration systems. Through e-mail I can find lots of important quantitative information (mailed around as spreadsheet attachments) but more importantly, the color and commentary that goes along with it. As Mark Logic's Jason Hunter once put it: "I can see the movie (the data), and the subtitles that go along with it."
E-mail is the one-stop shop for information inside most organizations. So why not demonstrate our power on e-mail, we thought? So we did.
The other nice thing about e-mail is that it has additional idiosyncrasies that let us show-off more of our power.
- Included text and conversation threads. MarkMail does a great job of eliminating duplicate inclusions and re-building a conversation from a series of emails.
- Attachments. We love documents and people email them all the time. MarkMail has some very nice -- and sexy -- ways of handling e-email attachments.