Delve exposes Exchange email attachments but some fine-tuning is needed

Delve exposes Exchange email attachments but some fine-tuning is needed

Some time ago I posted a note wondering when Delve would start to notice that an awful lot of very interesting information is stored in Exchange mailboxes. People use email to circulate all sorts of ideas and the content held in message bodies and attachments seemed like an excellent source of information for Delve to mine, especially since the same search technology is shared across Exchange and SharePoint. As you probably realize, up to now, Delve has concentrated on exposing information held in SharePoint document libraries and Exchange seemed like the logical next step.

Well, it's happening. The latest build of Delve was made available to Office 365 tenants who participate in Microsoft's First Release program. This is an option within Office 365 where you see new features a few weeks ahead of general release and Microsoft gets the chance to tweak new functionality based on user feedback. Since the new code appeared, I've been taking a close look at what's available.

When you start Delve, attachments found in email show up in your "Home" view. The attachments are presented in cards that provide some context including information about who sent the message and some text from the message body. You can then elect to view the attachment. If a message contains multiple attachments, each attachment is presented in a separate card.

Unhappily I think some extra work is needed before Delve unleashes email attachments across all of Office 365, which is of course the purpose of the First Release program. Here's some of the issues that I have run into:

Only email attachments sent to you show up in Delve: Attachments you have sent to other users is not revealed. You can argue a case why this should be so, but I think that if you're going to use Delve as a next-generation search service that aims to be far more intelligent when it comes to uncovering information, it should uncover everything rather than restricting itself to the contents of the Inbox folder. It would be nice, for instance, if Delve's "My Work" view showed attachments that I had recently shared with others, especially if the attachments belonged to high-priority messages.

Not all attachments in the Inbox show up: It seems like Delve uses a two-week window to reveal email attachments, which is fine if it were accurate. Right now, Delve shows me 7 attachments, of which 3 belong to messages that have been deleted, 3 are in the Inbox, and 1 is in another folder. However, there is no trace of 4 other items that have attachments that remain in the Inbox and received since 26-Jan-2015. According to the Delve team, they want to present items that are of interest to you based on "insights" that they gather and analyze in the Office Graph database. The same kind of signal-driven rationale is used to surface documents stored in SharePoint and OneDrive (for Business) libraries. Admirable as the aspiration behind only wanting to show what's important is, I can't see the logic of how Delve selected the particular set of attachments from my Inbox.

You can't go back in time: Outlook (whose search features I distrust), tell me that 250 items of the 8,288 in my Inbox have attachments, but Delve stubbornly holds to its two-week window and refuses to locate attachments past this point. In fact, its search doesn't find some attachments that I know to exist in my Inbox.

Moved messages cause Delve headaches: If you click the links to take you to one of the attachments uncovered by Delve and the message containing the attachment was moved from the Inbox, the attempt to call Outlook Web App fails (logically – the item isn't where it was when Delve indexed it). Two issues arise here: First, it seems like Delve uses indexes that are completely out of date. Secondly, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of software engineering to detect the problem and inform the user "hold on – the item doesn't seem to be in its original location; let me find it for you". Or isn't this kind of Cortana-kind of assistance foreign to Delve?

There's no way to delete items from Delve: Assume that something shows up in my Delve view that I don't want to ever see again. It would be nice to delete the item – and have the choice to remove it from the search index. Or maybe not delete, but certainly to provide a strong signal that the attachment is of no interest!

The viewing experience needs to be optimized: In fact, Delve invokes two separate user experiences when email attachments are viewed. If you click the link for the attachment, Outlook Web App opens as if you were reading the message (in a separate window). I like the fact that you can work with the message (reply, forward, delete, etc.) but it would be nicer if this was a full Outlook Web App session as there's no way to get to other features like see the folder list or create a new message. In any case, if you click on the second link ("view the email"), a completely different interface is presented where the attachment is opened and displayed on the left using the online versions of Word, Excel, etc. and the rest of the message is displayed on the right (screen shot below). This seems to be a better viewing experience but I can see how people will be confused by the two approaches for what is essentially the same task.

All of this is indicative of software that is under development and I am sure that the Delve team will eradicate the problems over time. The important thing is that they are now making use of information contained in Exchange mailboxes (Office 365 only, no hybrid or on-premises support yet) and that's a good thing.

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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