In the Briefing Room: Mail Triage and Topika

The Innovation Lab is one of my favorite places to spend time during Lotusphere.  For the uninitiated, the Innovation Lab is a large room with 20+ developers stationed at individual workstations showing off concepts that they are working on at the IBM Almaden Research Center.

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

Mail Triage: determing one's priorities

What is demonstrated is the software equivalent of concept cars in the automotive world.

At Lotusphere 2010, two solutions that have the potential to significantly increase knowledge worker efficiency and effectiveness and potentially lower information overload caught my eye: Topika and Mail Triage.

Topika is a tool that attempts to resolve various difficulties in using collaborative tools (the developers of Topika, specifically exclude e-mail from being defined as a “collaborative tool” because, in their view, e-mail messages do not typically have shared materials.)  It was created by a team of researchers at IBM Research in Almaden including Tara Matthews, Jalal Mahmud, Tom Moran, Barton Smith, Steve Whittaker, and Julian Cerruti.

Topika, which integrates e-mail with collaborative tools, detects when a person is sending an e-mail message and suggests relevant social software tools that the sender could use in addition to sending the e-mail message.

In other words, when you write an e-mail, Topika suggests a place, activity, or site (such as Lotus Quickr or Connections) and stores it (including any e-mail attachments).  It adds information in the e-mail message that points to these places.  Right now the e-mail attachment remains in the e-mail message but an option to remove the attachment in future versions is under consideration.

Topika makes its recommendation by creating a work profile that is an index of an individual’s collaborative activities and the tools used.  By using Topika, knowledge workers can use e-mail to support collaboration via other tools.  Topika is in its early stages but it shows great promise.

Mail Triage and Personal Tasks is an innovative tool created by Jeff Pierce, a researcher who focuses on user sciences and experience research at the IBM Almaden Research Center.  It is one way of rethinking how we approach e-mail from mobile devices (as opposed to at a full-sized computer).  Mail Triage recognizes the fact that mobile e-mail usage is focused around triaging messages as opposed to reading them.  Knowledge workers want to know what’s new, what requires immediate attention, and what can be deleted.  Everything else can be deferred.

Mail Triage does just that.  It allows mobile knowledge workers to manage mail quickly by sorting, prioritizing, and deferring.  The top-level view of the e-mail client shows Triaged and Untriaged folders instead of the typical inbox.  It creates tasks for the user such as Call, Print, Read, Reply, Save, Schedule, Send, and Visit.

Once the user accesses his desktop computer, a Lotus Notes sidebar allows the user to access, edit, or delete tasks and further triage e-mail messages on the desktop (by dragging them to the sidebar).

Mail Triage has the potential to make the knowledge worker’s use of mobile devices more efficient and effective than is currently the case.  It will be interesting to follow this project as it develops.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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