Email Search Must Include Context

Searching through email has to get a lot better.

Notes/Domino has had powerful word-based search for a long time. Now Exchange is getting the same. And there are excellent third-party utilities, such as Google Desktop Search.

These are valuable, but search needs to go much further. Often, you can't remember an email by words in the email or headers. Important search criteria include:

  • Dates, including "around about such-and-such dates."
  • Groups of people who were involved with the email.
  • Whether it was personal or business.
  • The work group of the person who sent the email.
  • Who the people involved worked for.
  • Geographical information; e.g., "It had to do with South Africa."
  • Events defined via one's calendar; e.g., "He sent me the presentation after I saw him in Norway," or "He sent me a nice note and a poem after Arul was born."

So today's lexically oriented search is a boon. But as message stores continue to grow, and become ever more valuable, they'll run out of steam. The search parameters and intelligence will have to be greatly expanded, and include contextual information.

... David Ferris, with thanks to Persistent Systems' Anand Deshpande for his input on this topic. Persistent is a software development firm that works on various messaging projects, including context-based search.

One Comment

  1. Posted October 7, 2005 at 9:37 PM | Permalink

    Can you please provide more details/links to “Now Exchange is getting the same.”. Thanks.

  2. David Ferris
    Posted October 9, 2005 at 12:52 AM | Permalink

    Hope this helps…

    Lookout… While acquired by MS and part of the MSN Toolbar Suite Beta, you can still download Lookout itself.

    Both are available here:

  3. Posted June 26, 2006 at 12:39 PM | Permalink

    Context based search for email has arrived. ZOE.professional is a powerful email mining tool with cababilities such as searching within an attachment, email threads of conversation between groups, a contributor feature that displays information abouth the people within that discussion, calendar/timeline feature and dynamic query.

    Visit or for more info.

    Kris O

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