Email is a big part of modern life, especially for business, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. While some super sleuths are able to quickly find what they need in previous messages, the rest of us mere mortals have a harder time digging through our inbox for elusive bits of relevant information.
“Many users face this problem of not getting the emails they are looking for quickly,” says Suresh Parthasarathy, a senior research developer on Microsoft Research India’s Applied Sciences team.
Ashok, senior director of the same team, adds “A user might search for an email with some keywords and keep scrolling down the search results to find that elusive email.”
Both worked on Email Insights, which provides an “intent pane” that shows the top three most relevant results highlighted and grouped first in the results to cut down on the tedious scrolling and make the search more like what people do every day on engines like Bing and Google.
“Web search has evolved over the years. We wanted to make email searches like web searches,” says Parthasarathy. “It is not just about the algorithms, but about the user experience. We present a novel browser-like email experience that feels lightweight and works just like web search.”
The program also provides contextual autocomplete, spelling correction and “fuzzy” name search.
“The idea is to remove the cognitive load of a user while searching,” Parthasarathy says. “A user need not remember all the exact keywords or spellings for their queries. Contextual fuzzy name search obviates the need to remember spellings of peoples’ names. For instance, ‘Chris’ gets corrected to ‘Kris’ and ‘Philip’ gets corrected to ‘Philippe,’ depending on your inbox.”
Users can also perform multiple searches at the same time by opening tabs. They can also use the search box to perform quick tasks, such as composing one-line emails or scheduling a quick meeting.
“We think of Email Insights as search companion for Outlook and Gmail,” Parthasarathy says.
The program started out as a hackathon project before evolving into this no-frills experience to quickly and effectively search emails, increasing productivity and decreasing frustration.
Once installed, you can pin the program to your taskbar for easy access.
“Think of someone yanking the search button from the top of Outlook and moving it to a separate spot on your taskbar,” says Parthasarathy.
Email Insights is the kind of tool that can come in handy for developers who are busy coding and want to quickly perform email-related tasks, or users who may prefer the Linux-like shell, which applies a command interface over emails. But it’s also useful for anyone who wants better search results.
The team worked through The Garage to develop and release this experience.
The Garage, which celebrated a major milestone in November, is the outlet for Microsoft teams around the world to get experimental apps and projects out to the public, such as several developed by interns, as well as Video Breakdown, Clip Layer, Kaizala, Sprightly, News Pro 3.0 and Color Binoculars.
“The Garage team provides us a splendid outlet to experiment with innovative ideas, refine them and release to real-world users quickly,” Parthasarathy says. “The Garage team helped us at various stages of development. Based on their feedback, we incorporated telemetry into our application. We also went through a rigorous review process and multiple testing cycles which helped in understanding user requirements better.”
Microsoft News Center Staff