SEAmail is a prototype e-mail system implemented by Stanford University Logic Group lead by Michael Genesereth, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University. The interesting and innovative part of this e-mail system is the use of semantic technologies in order to determine the recipient of an e-mail message. Users don’t have to bother on keeping track of e-mail addresses, they just type in the real name of the recipient letting the system searching the right recipient address.
E-mail addresses are an artificial way of directing messages to the right people, says Michael Genesereth, an associate professor of computer science at Stanford who works on SEAmail. “You want to send messages to people or roles, not to strings of characters,” he says. Semantic technologies are aimed at making just this sort of thing possible. The idea is to create programs that understand context, so that users can interact with the software more naturally. Technical details, such as the need to specify an e-mail address, get hidden inside the system, so that everyday users no longer have to pay attention to them.
In SEAmail, a user selects recipients for a message in much the way that she would set up a search query. The parameters can be as simple as a person’s name, or as complex as sets of logical requirements. But the system is limited by how much information it has about potential recipients. “To realize the full potential, we need to have rich data about the people who are sending messages to each other, their interests, and so forth,” Genesereth says. Within an organization, he says, there’s usually a lot of available data. The technical challenge is setting up an integrated version of the data that SEAmail can access easily. The data needed to fulfill the request for professors who graduated from Harvard, for example, would probably come from several databases, Genesereth says. His team is currently researching ways to pull together existing databases without affecting how they’re already being used.
These existing databases should be part of the Linking Open Data Movement, which aims to semantic interlink existing open data sets in order to build useful new applications and to support a Web of Data.
Furder information can be found in an article published by Standford University Logic Group, called Semantic Email Addressing (PDF).