IBM Gives the Gift of Free E-Mail Search

The company's research lab is developing technology to ease searches in Lotus Notes and Outlook.

IBM's Almaden Research Center is cooking up new search software that unearths the most relevant information in a search query to help people find information buried in their e-mail applications.

IBM calls OmniFind Personal E-mail Search—or IOPES—semantic, or "smart" search, because it uses special algorithms that can rationalize incomplete queries to retrieve information such as phone numbers, people, meetings, presentations, documents and images.

IOPES, unveiled Dec. 20, also allows users to create, save and share personalized searches for future use. The software, though not initially positioned as a competitive product, is the latest innovation in an enterprise search market loaded with rivals Google, Microsoft, Fast Search & Transfer, and Autonomy.

The roots of IOPES go back 18 months. Shiv Vaiyanathan, manager of unstructured information mining at IBM Research, said he was fruitlessly looking for a phone number buried in two e-mails in his Lotus Notes system. Typing in the contact's name and the words "phone number" didn't work.

He later realized that it didn't work because neither of the two elusive e-mails contained the keyword "phone." What the contact had written was something to the effect of "the easiest way to reach me is," followed by the phone number.


Click here to read more about Google refreshing its search appliance.

Exasperated, he grabbed another e-mail from that contact and did a sort search on his name, whittling the choices down by guessing approximately when he sent the e-mail. After several minutes, he located one of the e-mails he was looking for.

"The search tool was not smart enough to realize that [I] wanted the contact's phone number and not e-mails that contained the keywords of his name somewhere and the keyword phone somewhere," Vaiyanathan said.

Surely, this story is familiar for many people, but Vaiyanathan gets paid to solve such problems.


With the help of a few colleagues and the backbone of UIMA (Unstructured Information Management Architecture), an open-source software framework IBM created to help companies build new analysis technologies, he programmed common search concepts, such as dates, times and phone numbers, into IOPES.

The software was tested inside IBM by early adopters who participate in the company's internal Technology Adoption Program. IOPES is available for Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook from IBM's AlphaWorks site here.

Vaiyanathan said IBM is offering IOPES for free to garner as much feedback as possible about the tool. He and IBM believe IOPES may evolve into a commercial enterprise search product that could, for example, help users search on intranets.

IBM will charge for this technology if it becomes a commercial product.

"Once we get feedback, what we can do with the fact that we are moving from keywords into context is boundless," he said.


Check out's Search Center for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.