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 Semantic Email
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 Oren Etzioni
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As part of the Mangrove project, we are exploring the notion of semantic email. Semantic email aims to make many of the emails that we interact with in everyday life both human- and machine-understandable. Ultimately, this will simply many common email related tasks such as collecting information from a group of people, handling schedule/event information, reminding others about previous unanswered emails, and answering frequently asked questions.

Our first step in this process has been the construction of several semantic email processes. These are described below along with instructions for actually using the processes.

Email processes available for public use

  • RSVP. This process is used to collect RSVPs from a set of people. To use it, simply fill out this form and follow the instructions. The system will send out emails on your behalf, tally the responses, and provide you with a link to check on the RSVPs collected so far at any time.
  • Group/Meeting Coordination. Suppose that you are trying to organize a meeting (or perhaps a soccer game) and you want to be able to ask the participants when they are free and then automatically determine which options are acceptable for enough participants. Use this form to start such a process, and it will issue invitations, collect responses from everyone, and automatically tabulate the responses. You can specify what the valid set of choices is and how often to receive updates. For instance, you might want to wait until everyone has responded, or make a decision after finding out that some choice is acceptable for at least 5 people.
    This "group coordination" process could also be used for any other purpose where you would like to collect yes/no responses to a set of choices or questions.
  • Balanced Collection. Imagine that you are organizing a potluck, where people should bring either an appetizer, entree, or dessert, and you want to ensure that the meal is balanced. Use this form to start such a process, and it will issue invitations, collect responses from everyone, and automatically balance the potluck by requesting changes where necessary. You can specify what the valid set of dishes is and how much slack to allow in the balancing process.
    This "balanced collection" process could also be used for any other purpose where you need to divide people up into roughly equal sets.
  • First-come, first-served (FCFS). This process is used to give N items away (e.g. tickets, books, etc.) on a "first-come, first-served" basis. To use it, simply fill out this form with a list of recipients and a description of what you are giving away. The system will then send out emails on your behalf informing recipients how they can claim the item(s). When recipients respond to this mail (e.g. to request some items), the system will automatically inform them whether or not their request was accepted. When all items have been claimed, you will receive an email notification.
    The FCFS process can also be used to collect N volunteers, to sell N items at a fixed price, or for any other purpose where a "first-come, first-served" protocol makes sense.

    NOTE: Yahoo email accounts appear to re-format messages, at least sometimes, in a way that is incompatible with how the server process messages. You may wish to run a test first if using Yahoo accounts.

Beta processes available for public use

  • Auction. This process is used to run an auction on your behalf, where you specify who the bidders are. The system will send out emails on your behalf and respond appropriately, keeping track of the current highest bid and responding appropriately to bidders, accepting only qualifying bids. Use this form to try it out.


CSE logo Department of Computer Science & Engineering
University of Washington
Box 352350
Seattle, WA  98195-2350
(206) 543-1695 voice, (206) 543-2969 FAX
[comments to lucasm@cs.washington.edu]