PARC Releases New Semantic Technology (in Form of an Outlook Plugin)

The Palo Alto Research Center is releasing new semantic technology, based on Xerox PARC IP, in the form of an Outlook plugin called Meshin. At first glance, Meshin looks like the ugly stepsister to a similar Outlook tool called Xobni, as it also loads into an email sidebar window, displaying sections dedicated to recent conversations and a summary of attachments shared back and forth via email, among other things. But what makes Meshin different is the engine powering it underneath: a semantic technology that uses “natural language processing” to understand entities, how they connect and what they mean.

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The engineers freely admit that Meshin’s user interface (UI) is currently the Achilles’ Heel of the app. It’s nowhere near as polished and put together as competitor Xobni’s, for example. But they’ll fix that, they promise. “We’re hiring a UI designer,” they tell us.

Focusing on the looks, though, is missing the big picture. Meshin is different from other email-based contact management systems including not only Xobni, but analysis engines like Gist, too. Where those companies hinge on the person – here’s their title, where they work, their emails, attachments, their blog posts, their last Twitter update, etc. – Meshin actually analyzes the information found in the information streams it examines. It then extracts related conversations, related messages, related people and other semantically understood data. And it does so by looking beyond keywords. It knows what things mean. It knows if a word is referring to a person, place or thing. It can also surface related links and news from the Web for any given entity.

Read More about Xobni and Gist.

Already, the engine behind Meshin isn’t limited to email messages alone. For example, if you subscribe to RSS feeds within Outlook, those are also understood as being a part of the relationship map with another person. If you subscribe to Twitter feeds within Outlook, again, those are analyzed, along with the other streams.

Meshin arose from a Xerox-funded project inside PARC whose goal is to commercialize older PARC IP for a broader audience. The project has been in development for only a year, with a small core team and support from PARC researchers. The long-term goal for Meshin is to extend itself beyond Outlook, in order to connect other types of information streams together. 

The researchers are contemplating where they should take the technology next – another email platform? An RSS reader? A standalone product? Should they open up Meshin APIs (application programming interfaces) for developers to use within their own applications and services? All these models are a possibility, but first the engineers wanted to just get the technology out there, in the hands of users.

We’re helping them with that by distributing invites to the private beta. For access, click here.

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