Stanford University is working on developing a new enterprise 2.0 e-mail system based on semantics. Traditional e-mail centers need specific e-mail addresses, group lists, or the like. But SEAmail (Semantic E-mail Addressing) seeks to eliminate this need by pulling e-mail addresses from large databases based on search criteria and a semantic understanding of those criteria in comparison with the databases.

It sounds overly technical, but the idea is simple. Instead of needing to enter specific e-mail addresses, build e-mail lists manually and have a long list of contacts to sort through; you would simply enter a set of criteria and the system would pull any and all e-mail addresses that fit that criteria. You don’t even need to know your intended recipients specific addresses. The system uses databases that gather e-mail addresses and pulls from those making it easy to create e-mail lists on the fly. Search criteria include first and last name, potential group names, sites, and interests.

SEAmail: Semantic emailing
SEAmail Search Interface

Problems Surrounding SEAmail

This all sounds great initially. No more needing to mess with huge e-mail lists. But where do the databases come from? Currently, Stanford is using existing databases that are integrated into the system. The problem is the public may not have access to these databases and there is not a pool of existing databases just floating around out there waiting to be queried.

Other potential problems include spam. While we would all like to think that everyone online is ethical and moral in their practices, we also know this isn’t true. And while SEAmail aims to lessen unnecessary e-mailing, the amounts of e-mails sent and received generally solve some problems that have always plagued e-mail. But it seems they are opening more doors for spammers than they are closing.

Additionally, the system does not currently take into account how people are using social networks. And considering the growing use of social networks, enterprise collaboration tools and other social media aspects of the web this seems a major flaw that may not be able to be resolved.

And last but not least, Microsoft Exchange already has a built in ability to create query based lists on virtually any requirement necessary.

All in all it seems a good idea that Stanford is working on, but SEAmail looks as though it falls short when addressing real issues surrounding e-mail. Given time these problems may get worked out, but for now enterprise 2.0 styled semantic e-mail will just have to wait.