During the internet bubble, among the many startups based on bizarre ideas, there was one in the US working on a sound project: developing solutions able to make explicit and available the large mass of tacit knowledge hidden in email messages exchanged within organizations.

In fact, if we think about it, the email traffic we handle at work on a daily basis is definitely a goldmine, because it contains, in a processable format, the tacit knowledge which is vital to businesses. However, when we need such knowledge, we often cannot retrieve it because, being tacit, it is unstructured or unorganized, and therefore remains hidden inside the email messages.

In order to understand the full potential of tacit knowledge, we can consider the difficulties when a key person leaves a company and takes important knowledge assets with him (or her.) Or there are also the numerous times that we know that we already have a solution to a problem inside an email message, but we can’t remember where to find it.

These examples prove how much can be saved, in terms of time and costs, by an application able to read all the email messages exchanged by a group, organize the contents, and make them accessible and usable in the future.

Developing generic solutions of this kind is extremely complex (as a matter of fact, the start-up mentioned earlier is now working on other developments).

But semantics can still have a key role, even if under present conditions it requires considerable customization and tuning.

This means that only big companies can invest in such solutions, and this is pity, because small and medium businesses could also benefit from them, as tacit knowledge hidden in email messages can really imply relevant costs, often implicit.

Actually, it’s a paradox: for the first time in history we are able to keep track of the business communications that used to be only vocal, but at the same time we cannot make them accessible and usable.

I doubt the problem will ever be solved completely but I’m confident that, at least in part, it will be possible to realize solutions that can find the gems available in this goldmine of hidden and unused knowledge and in the next few years, this will be the biggest challenge for the developers of semantic technologies.

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