IBM Sets Out to Save Email with ‘Verse’
December 2, 2014 Alex Woodie
Email, you will remember, was the Internet’s first killer app. Before there was Twitter or texting or blogs, email transformed how we communicated. That was 30 years ago, but today email has lost its luster, thanks to spam and a plethora of other ways to send a note or share a file. Now IBM is seeking to elevate electronic mail to relevant new heights with a new hosted offering called Verse.
It may sound odd, but one of the problems with email is its continued popularity and relevance in the workplace. More than 108 billion work emails are sent daily, according to IBM, which makes email the number one form of electronic communication. Employees check their inboxes an average of 36 times an hour, but only 14 percent of emails are critically important to work, IBM says. That adds up to a lot of lost time ploughing through inboxes searching for relevant information.
IBM obviously can’t force us to send more relevant emails. But it can alert us to the arrival of emails that are important to us, unclutter the inbox, and personalize the presentation. That, in a nutshell, is what IBM built Verse to do.
Verse aims to be a one-stop shop for virtual workplace interactions. It’s not just for email, IBM says, but for meetings, calendars, file sharing, instant messaging, social networking, and video chats. The software, which is hosted on the SoftLayer cloud, lets users search and find information across these sources, and present it in a unified way.
The hosted offering combines analytics and social networking to weed out irrelevant content from less-connected senders and bubble up the most pertinent information through a Web browser interface. Algorithms will predict users’ behavior and preferences and prioritize content that’s presented in the users screen. Eventually, IBM plans to add a plug-in for Watson Analytics that will allow users to ask any question within the Verse product.
Instead of a list of emails that can be sorted by time, subject, or sender, Verse organizes information in a different way. When you log into Verse, you’ll see a strip of photos across the top representing individuals, teams, and topics. If there’s something that demands your attention, it will have a series of red dots across it. The left side of the screen contains a list of to-do items and scheduling conflicts, while on the right side are the items that Verse’s analytics engine has bubbled up. You can also view email the old-fashioned way.
Gilberto Garcia, the CTO at Mexican building materials giant Cemex, applauded Verse for its visual design. “I quickly realized just how much was happening beneath the surface,” he says. “It gives you a seamless blend of email, social, and collaboration capabilities that didn’t force me to jump between my inbox, calendar, and other apps to share and connect with people. It’s hard to even call this email anymore.”
IBM plans to offer several versions of Verse, including a paid version and a “freemium” version delivered over the IBM Cloud Marketplace. There will be Android and iOS clients to go along with Web clients for full PCs.
While it will offer a free version of Verse, IBM cast dispersions on other free email services that “mine a user’s inbox to increase advertising and monetize that data in other ways”–a clear reference to Google‘s Gmail. Google’s approach doesn’t work in regulated industries such as healthcare and finance, IBM points out.
IBM says Verse is a product of its $100 million investment in cloud, analytics, social, and security technologies. The product was developed at its lab in Austin, Texas, and can be considered a follow-on to IBM Connections, which IBM first launched in 2007 as Lotus Connections.
While IBM Connections runs on IBM i, don’t expect Verse to come down off the cloud anytime soon. Just the same, you can expect IBM to push Verse heavily into its IBM i installed base.
A beta of Verse is available now to select customers and partners, while the freemium version will become available next quarter. For more info, see www.ibm.com/verse.