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Semantic Email Addressing

Semantic Email Addressing

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   I  n   t  e   l   l   i  g  e  n   t   W  e   b   S  e  r  v   i  c  e  s
48 Published by the IEEE Computer Society 1089-7801/09/$25.00 © 2009 IEEE IEEE INTERNET COMPUTING
E
mail addresses are a means to anend. The goal is usually not tosend an email to a particular ad-dress, but to a particular person. Youwant to say hello to your riend Steve or send a message to the VP o marketingat Microsot or to the head caterer or  your wedding. Ideally, you could senda message to a person just by enter-ing his or her name, position, or someother descriptive attribute. I a person’semail address changes, the email sys-tem should send to the new address au-tomatically. I the person matching adescription diers over time, the emailsystem should send to the person cur-rently matching that description.More generally, you should be ableto send email messages to groups o people matching a particular set o at-tributes: all Stanord department chairs,all emale customers living in Detroit,or all people in your organization whospeak both English and French. Today,we use mailing lists to email predenedgroups o people. However, because in-nitely many ways to dene a set o people exist (or example, “all people inthe marketing department whose namestarts with the letter ‘M’”), you gener-ally can’t rely on such lists. Instead, you must be able to address your emailto static mailing lists that are the bestt to your requirements, and you mustknow o their existence.
Semantic email addressing
(SEA)is a simple but novel technology thatlets you address email to a semanti-
Email addresses, like telephone numbers, are opaque identiers. They’re otenhard to remember, and, worse still, they change rom time to time. Semanticemail addressing (SEA) lets users send email to a semantically specied groupo recipients. It provides all o the unctionality o static email mailing lists, butbecause users can maintain their own proles, they don’t need to subscribe,unsubscribe, or change email addresses. Because o its targeted nature, SEAcould help combat unintentional spam and preserve the privacy o emailaddresses and even individual identities.
Michael Kassoff,Charles Petrie,Lee-Ming Zen,and Michael Genesereth
Stanord University 
Semantic Email Addressing
The Semantic Web Killer App?
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JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009 49
Semantic Email Addressing 
cally dened set o entities (see the “Related Work in Semantic Email Addressing” sidebar or other research in this area). A SEA mailserver computes the recipients o a semanti-cally addressed email on the fy based on theaddress’s semantic denition. SEA has other benets as well. First, it doesn’t require dis-covery. In traditional email systems, it’s di-cult or humans to discover email addressesand mailing lists, and automatic discovery bycomputers is almost impossible. In addition,SEA requires no maintenance. In traditionalmailing lists, an administrator must create andmaintain the list and individuals subscribe or unsubscribe to the list, and change their inor-mation with regard to the list. This can be par-ticularly onerous when users must deal withmany lists — or example, when their emailaddresses change. Instead, users can updatetheir personal inormation, such as email ad-dress, once, in a single place, and the SEA mailserver would automatically adapt.SEA has application in both corporate in-tranets and the Internet. It also raises severalissues, including security and privacy issues,errors, user adoption, and standardization.
Examples
To illustrate SEA, we consider two examples.
Corporate Example
Corporations and other organizations oten havedatabases o inormation about personnel, proj-ects, customers, and so on. Users can leveragethis inormation to send emails based on prop-erties o the people in a particular department.Consider a moderate-sized company withseveral departments. The company has a cen-tralized database containing the ollowing in-ormation about its personnel: name, emailaddress, department, group, position, project,and date o hire. Given this inormation, a user might dene groups o people by querying thedata — or example, or “all senior managers inthe accounting department.”The company might also have the ollowinginormation about its projects: project name, pri-ority, leader, start date, and end date. With this
Related Work in Semantic Email Addressing
S
everal other researchers have recognized the value in bring-ing semantics to email. For example, the Inormation Lenssystem
1
lets users send semistructured email messages and l-ter those messages using production rules. Users can send toa special mailbox called “anyone,” and anyone can choose toreceive messages rom this mailbox based on production rules.This fips the nature o widely broadcast emails on its head.Instead o starting with receiving all emails and whittling themdown based on ltering rules, the user starts with an emptyinbox and pulls in email o interest. This is similar to the RSSsubscription model. As RSS eeds contain more semantic inor-mation, the semantic subscription model exemplied by Inor-mation Lens might become more commonplace.More recently, MailsMore
2
lets users annotate an email’scontent with Resource Description Framework (RDF) triplesand automatically includes RDF triples based on standard emailheaders such as the “To,” “From,” “Subject,” and body elds.This can be used or semantic ltering and ling o emails.The Mangrove system
3–5
takes this idea urther. It allowsnot only structured email content but also semantic email proc-esses. Users can script email clients with declarative workfowsthat automatically aggregate inormation obtained rom manyemail responses, automatically resend emails to people whohaven’t responded, or analyze the semantic content o incom-ing email messages and respond accordingly.Most relevantly, Microsot Exchange 2003 lets administra-tors create query-based distribution groups, which are essen-tially mailing lists whose recipients are based on a LightweightDirectory Access Protocol (LDAP) query run when the email issent. This alleviates much o the administrative work requiredto maintain a mailing list. However, because only an administra-tor can create the mailing lists, users can’t send SEA mail, andthe inormation upon which the lists are based isn’t under us-ers’ control. None o this application’s unctionality is availableto users and very little to administrators. In act, users can’tsee that a distribution group is query based: each query-baseddistribution group has a name, so to an outsider looks like aregular mailing list.
References
T. Malone et al., “Intelligent Inormation-Sharing Systems,”1.
Comm. ACM
, vol.30, no. 5, 1987, pp. 390–402.A. Kalyanpur et al.,2.
Representation Formalisms and Methods,
tech. report,Univ. o Maryland, 2001; www.mindswap.org/papers/SMORE.pd.O. Etzioni et al., “Semantic Email: Adding Lightweight Data Manipulation3.Capabilities to the Email Habitat,”
Proc. 6th Int’l Workshop the Web and Data-bases
, ACM Press, 2003, pp. 12–13.L. Mcdowell, O. Etzioni, and A. Halevy, “Semantic Email: Theory and Appli-4.cations,”
Web Semantics: Science, Services and Agents on the World Wide Web
,vol. 2, no. 2, 2004, pp. 153–183.L. McDowell et al., “Semantic Email,”5.
Proc. 13th Int’l Con. World Wide Web
 (WWW 04), ACM Press, 2004, pp. 244–254.
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Intelligent Web Services
50 www.computer.org/internet/ IEEE INTERNET COMPUTING
inormation, a user can dene precise groups o people such as “all developers or current proj-ects in the database group.” Using SEA, the user can send an email to this group. Like a tradi-tional mailing list, a recipient o a semanticallyaddressed email can respond to the sender or tothe group. Unlike a traditional mailing list, therecipient can respond to a particular subset o the group or orward the email to some other semantically dened group o people.Using SEA, a computer could send an emailto a specic person or group o persons. For ex-ample, you could program the company room-reservation system to automatically send anemail to the building manager each time con-erence room 101 is reserved. As the employeeserving as building manager changed over time,the room-reservation system would always sendthe email to the correct person, without your having to reprogram it.
Internet Example
Recently, the Friend-o-a-Friend (FOAF) Re-source Description Framework (RDF) ontologyhas gained popularity. FOAF predicates a per-son’s express properties, such as name, emailaddress, group memberships, employer, gender,birthday, interests, projects, and acquaintances. As o 2004, more than 1.25 million FOAF docu-ments were publicly available on the Internet,and that number has certainly grown since.
1
By spidering the Semantic Web and collect-ing the inormation contained in FOAF les, youcan build a large collection o data about peopleand their interests. You could use this inorma-tion to email people with a given interest, whoknow people who know a particular person, andso on. Figure 1 shows a ragment o one o our FOAF les. As you can see, Charles Petrie is aStanord employee interested in BMW R-seriesmotorcycles, the German language, and seman-tic research, and he knows Axel Polleres. Usingthis inormation and similar inormation culledrom various other FOAF les, you could ad-dress an email to all Stanord employees inter-ested in semantic research, all people interestedin R-series motorcycles, and so on.Petrie’s FOAF le is a single place in whichhe can control his personal inormation. I hewere to change his email address, all semanti-cally addressed email based on his FOAF prolewould be automatically routed to his new ad-dress. I he let Stanord, he’d no longer receiveemails addressed to Stanord people interestedin semantic research. All o this is under hiscontrol, and he doesn’t need to change his set-tings with each mailing list individually. Thechanges happen automatically.In a sense, SEA is the opposite o spam. Al-though both SEA and spam might involve unso-licited emails, spam goes to everyone, whereasSEA is targeted toward those who’ve publiclyannounced their interest in the SEA mail topic.SEA is a marketer’s dream come true. Moreover,unlike mailing lists, it requires no discovery or either the sender or the receiver.O course, we don’t have to depend on FOAFdescriptions alone. We can also integrate seman-tic inormation rom various sources, such asRDF les or relational databases. For example,we could pull bibliographic inormation rom asite such as DBLP and email everyone who has
<foaf:name>Charles Petrie</foaf:name><foaf:workplaceHomepage rdf:resource=“http://www.stanford.edu/”/><foaf:interest rdf:resource=“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_motorcycles#R_series”/><foaf:interest rdf:resource=“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_language”/><foaf:interest rdf:resource=“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_Research”/><foaf:mbox rdf:resource=“mailto:petrie@stanford.edu”/><foaf:knows><foaf:Person><foaf:name>Axel Polleres</foaf:name><rdfs:seeAlso rdf:resource=“http://www.polleres.net/foaf.rdf”/></foaf:Person></foaf:knows>
Figure 1. Fragment o Charles Petrie’s Friend-o-a-Friend (FOAF) profle. With semantic email addressing (SEA), youcould use inormation rom this and other FOAF profles to send an email to a specifc group o individuals, such asStanord University employees interested in semantic research.
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