A developer preview was just released of a new open source tool called echotracker that aims to collect interesting information about the people you communicate with and present it to you as you're reading your email.
Currently, echotracker's offering is modest. It runs as an Outlook plug-in. It draws up earlier emails to and from the person who's email you are currently reading, along with a phone number (if it was included in an email message) and pointers to any attachments in the messages, and presents the collection to you in a bar next to the current message. But the tool offers a starting point for other interesting enhancements in the future such as:
- Using the email address to look up a correspondent's Twitter feedand displaying recent tweets.
- Looking up documents stored by the correspondent in SharePoint and displaying links to them.
- Similar interfaces to Skype, Facebook, etc.
echotracker is the inspiration of Karim Yaghmour, who wrote the first edition of O'Reilly's Building Embedded Linux Systems and more recently founded the company Kryptiva. echotracker returns him to the open source development he promoted so effectively in his book. He hopes it will create an environment where Kryptiva can offer more collaboration tools commercially.
There are other tools both for mail readers and for the desktop that search and combine data from disparate places; Yaghmour mentions one particular precedent in Dashboard. (I wrote about it in 2004.)
Why focus on Outlook rather than a more general desktop application? Yaghmour cited two main reasons:
- People are already in Outlook; they spend a huge amount of time there and are comfortable using email as their main form of online communication. Plugging into Outlook gives echotracker access to a potentially huge market right away, and works with people in a medium they're familiar with.
- Using Outlook gives echotracker access to correspondents' email addresses, which for good or ill are the universal identifier in greatest use today.
So the tool is not part of a grand scheme to change the Internet or how we use it--just an interesting way to leverage what people are doing and help them do it better.