IBM has launched an email search engine that does fuzzy searches. IBM said it used "advanced algorithms that can interpret incomplete queries and find information such as phone numbers, people, meetings, presentations, documents, images and more."

The idea, according to Big Blue, is to help people find information in their Lotus Notes email databases by identifying the most relevant information in a search query and extrapolating what the user is trying to find. There is also a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook.

It's free, is called IBM OmniFind Personal Email Search (IOPES), and emanates from the company's research labs. According to IBM, it can find information such as a person's phone number even if the email database does not have the words "phone" and "number" in the text. IOPES also allows users to create, save and share personalised searches for future use.

The company reckoned that the tool improves on standard search tools because you don't get irrelevant search results as with a simple text or keyword search. Common search concepts, such as dates, times and phone numbers, are built into the software; additional search parameters, such as meeting requests or specific locations, can be defined and used on the fly without any programming expertise. Such user-defined concepts can be shared between individuals and used to build a more personalised search system, said IBM.

IOPES was created through a collaborative effort spanning IBM labs in Almaden in California, Haifa and Delhi. The software uses the Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA), an open source software framework that helps organisations build new analysis technologies to realise more value from their unstructured information by discovering relationships, identifying patterns, and predicting outcomes.

Originally developed by IBM, UIMA is now an open source project at the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), according to IBM. The company claimed that UIMA was used to enable text analysis, extraction and concept search capabilities in other parts of the IBM OmniFind enterprise search portfolio, including OmniFind Enterprise Edition, OmniFind Analytics Edition, and OmniFind Yahoo! Edition.

"With gigabytes of email storage readily available to nearly everyone, email has evolved from a simple communication tool into a personal database where we retain vast amounts of valuable information," said Lotus distinguished engineer and chief technology officer Douglas Wilson. "We continue to deliver better tools to speed and improve personal mailbox search, and OmniFind Personal Email Search illustrates how IBM's advanced technology delivers the ability to quickly and easily access the precise information we need, exactly when we need it."

The plug-in is available on alphaWorks here.

Prior to release on alphaWorks, IOPES was tested inside IBM by early adopters who participate in the company's internal technology adoption programme, reckoned IBM. AlphaWorks opens up some of the work being done by IBM labs and provides it free.