Connecting information using context: Meshin

Let’s face it: email is ripe for innovation.

We rely on folders and keyword searches to sift through thousands of emails to locate buried messages and documents… but the problem goes beyond the inbox.

Today’s business processes are more dynamic, more human-centric, ad hoc, unscripted, and loosely orchestrated – they represent the framework for our interactions with team members, business partners, and customers. The information that fuels these interactions is digital: emails, documents, web site links, database records, IMs, tweets, and so on.

Keeping track of all this information in the context of a person, a partner or customer, or a particular activity is a TIME CONSUMING, MANUAL, CUMBERSOME process. And it’s only getting tougher.

Search is not enough

Sure, search can help – but it’s limited to finding information based on a matching, often arbitrary and ill-defined, keyword, and only then in the information format supported by the search tool. But…

  • What if you can’t remember the right keyword?
  • What if you want to find a document based on its meaning? (e.g., something related to a question in an email message)
  • What if you want to find something that looks like something else (e.g., a sales chart used in a PowerPoint deck)?
  • What if you want to find all the email messages that included a certain slide deck or contract?

Search fails, or at best, requires repeated, manual efforts to narrow down the results. This is time consuming, prone to error, and so, so frustrating.

Connecting information by context

What we really need is a way to connect, or relate, information across different domains by context – connecting information by relevance. Remember when you last gathered all the relevant financial papers to file with your annual tax return? Even for the better organized of us, this is painful and time-consuming.

Meshin, a Xerox-funded project incubated at PARC, is addressing this “‘information connection” challenge (note I didn’t just say “overload”!) by using a specific combination of PARC technologies and competencies straight out of its research labs to create an information net – or what the team calls an “iMesh” – of the relationships between information elements such as the people, companies, and topics within email messages, documents, and other data sources.

Knowledge workers, unite!

Simply put, Meshin is a software product that connects information by context to improve the way knowledge workers find, sort, and interact with information. We want to make people smarter and faster when managing their information.

Right now, Meshin is available as a contextual Outlook sidebar – focused on the problem of business email first. Not only is email our #1 business application (57% of us are using email every hour, and typically receive 50-200 work-related emails per day), but it also contains the context of most of what we do. Encased in the messages we send and receive daily are the lifeblood of our tasks and responsibilities, our business relationships, and interests.

Knowing this context isn’t just powerful, it’s mission critical.

So, for now, Meshin helps users find information buried deep in their email – accurately and rapidly – and very soon the product will link information systems together to provide a “contextual intelligence system” connecting email with file storage, business systems, and the web.  Then you can find everything you want smartly and quickly.

Sign up for the beta here.