Photo by Indie Wench
Peter Mucha just pointed me in the direction of the NEPOMUK project. It's an EU funded semantic research effort, with a code name worthy of a Bond villain. It's very much part of the OWL/RDF approach to cracking the semantic problem, so it took me a while to dig down through the more abstract goals and understand what it actually did. It was worth the effort though, since it seems like their Soprano search engine for semantic data has enabled some interesting email functionality within the latest KDE release.
They seem to recognize that email is the ginger-haired stepchild of information management, left behind by the tools we take for granted for searching the web and files. A lot of their examples of using meta-data are related to messages; "Tell me which message a saved attachment file came from", "Find all the attachments related to these contacts", virtual mail folders, and even integrating calendar information with "Find all messages from people I've had meetings with in the last two weeks".
The downside is that while a lot of the underlying architecture to implement these cool features is provided by NEPOMUK, there's still the big and messy job of updating all the client applications to generate and use the meta-data. There's some work moving forward with the Akonadi mail client, and basic search support within KDE, but a lot of the really cool uses are still on the drawing board. There's no automatic tagging of emails or files based on content for example.
It's great to see them trying to tackle the challenge of email in innovative ways, they definitely have their eye on an interesting set of problems.