By Jeff Schick
For more than 30 years, email has been stuck in a rut. It’s still basically a list of messages that we plow through all day, every day—in our private and professional lives. The important stuff is hidden among the trivial and the routine. Sure, you can fiddle with rankings and do rudimentary searches, but, for all the time we spend dealing with our email, it’s one of the least-evolved computer activities around. Think of it as a tax on your brain.
I probably speak for many people when I say that the first word that comes to mind when I think of email is “frustration.” Actually, the word that comes to mind is less polite than that. That high level of collective frustration is what drove a talented team of software engineers and user experience designers at IBM to reimagine the domain—putting people and relationships at the center of things.
To do so, they combined email, social networking, collaboration, analytics, security, cloud computing and mobile to produce what I consider to be the freshest vision of what’s possible in digital communications since email arrived on the scene all those decades ago.
Their work is being revealed for the first time today with the launch of IBM Verse, a new social collaboration offering that uses built-in analytics to give employees a new way to converse, find the right people and information fast, and get work done. That’s verse, as in a song or a poem—something brief and delightful.
In addition to creating an application that’s fun to use, we believe we have made something that will save people time, make them more productive, and enable them to express their ideas and creativity in powerful new ways.
Several versions of Verse will be offered to businesses and other organizations; a freemium version will be available.
Here’s a video about how Verse works. Believe me, words alone can’t do justice to the experience.
When you launch Verse, you will see a strip of photos across the top representing individuals, teams and topics. You’ll click once to drill down, which will take you to emails, advanced search (the first instance of faceted search’ applied to the inbox), or content related to that individual, group or topic. Red dots on the photos signal that something demands your attention, so you’ll typically click on them first.
There’s a lot of flexibility in the way you can organize your screen, but I think many people will place in the middle those items demanding immediate attention and actions that you expect others to perform imminently.
On the left of the screen, there’s a short list of important to-do items or time conflicts. You can easily pin critical items there so you won’t forget them. On the right, typically, you’ll see items that are offered for your consideration by Verse’s analytics engine–which observes how you work and comes to conclusions about what’s important to you.
If you want to view your email the old-fashioned way, you can choose the inbox list view. Even so, you’ll be connected to all of the other new Verse features, including facet search and seamless connections to instant messaging, collaboration tools, forums, file sharing, blogs, and social networking.
Stripped down to the essence, Verse…
–Understands you. The analytics engine tracks what you do on email, in collaboration tools, and in social networks and is aware of your role in the company and of the people and tasks you deal with most often. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll embed the IBM Watson cognitive computing technology in Verse, so you’ll be able to ask questions and get deeply contextual answers in a matter of seconds.
–Reduces clutter. The most important people, topics and to-do items are pinned right there where you need them. One of the coolest features is the “Mute” button. After you have contributed to an email thread and don’t need to be included in the follow-up traffic, you and your inbox won’t be burdened with incremental messages. Every click and topic-line scan you shave off your email activities is a gift of time and concentration you give back to yourself.
–Brings the “me” to “we.” Verse enables you to click once to transfer a mail conversation into a more collaborative setting–such as a wiki, a blog or a discussion forum. It also helps you understand instantly your relationships with other people you interact with. You can click on a list of names included in an email or a teleconference invitation and see them arrayed graphically on the screen based on your relationship with them, their roles in the company, and the part they’re playing in a particular project. Mouse over a name to go deeper.
I believe that Verse represents a major leap forward in how people will collaborate and interact with one another. Similar to the impact IBM had on the industry in 2007 when we launched the very first enterprise social collaboration platform. IBM Connections was the first software program to bring together mainstream collaboration and social sharing tools into a single, easy-to-use environment. It’s also one of the major reasons why IBM has been named the market share leader in enterprise social software for five consecutive years, according to IDC. Those just coming to this space now have a lot of catching up to do.
This is all part of a larger mission at IBM–our goal of helping organizations to change the way employees work, companies perform and industries operate. Other recent examples are our partnership with Apple to develop a new class of industry-specific business apps to transform enterprise mobility, the creation of Watson Analytics to put powerful yet easy-to-use predictive and visual analytics tools in the palm of peoples hands, and our global partnership with Twitter to transform how businesses and institutions understand their customers, markets and trends. In the case of Verse, we brought software programmers and computer scientists working alongside experts in product design and the visual to rethink email from the ground up–with input from many IBM clients.
IBM Verse is about engaging with the individual–helping to make peoples’ lives easier, more fun and more productive.