Writing on his Portals and KM blog, Bill Ives reports on IBM’s vision of making email actually useful in “IBM Covers the Transformation of Busines Email”.

A couple of key paragraphs to whet your interest:

Email is becoming more focused. Ed [Brill, IBMís new leader for social collaboration] said that his own email volume has actually decreased in the era of other social tools. File sharing, for example, has moved to these social tools. However, the email he gets more often requires an action on his part. The concept of an activity stream is getting a lot of play these days. This capability had its origins with micro-blogging when auto-generated updates made an appearance. Email can serve this same function. Ed said that the activity stream, regardless of location, will evolve beyond simple alerts. It will allow for direct actions. For example a request for vacation can be approved right in the message with one click, rather than requiring opening another app. REST APIs allow for this capability and it will be a big productivity booster.

Ed said that IBM is working to embed these actions within email. It is also working to apply analytics to email traffic to determine what might be useful to users. For example, it could let users know who should they talk to about certain issues based on email traffic. They are also working to make the activity stream more pervasive, as well as more connected to other apps. SAP is one example, of this increased connection.

My own take on this is that the activity stream already pretty much exists in a variety of ways — all of which I’m still going to use after June 1’s divesture from email — all of which are more effective than email. Ed and Bill point to file sharing as an example. One thing that’s bigger here is that a kind of intelligent use of analytics to determine which actions are best handled where is called for or predicted or being pre-pitched. A lot of that exists already in Gmail and even iPhone mail: great spam filtering, great sensing of Priority, adding links that might be dates and so could be moved to calendars easily, gTalk and on Facebook chat and message integration, etc. Tripit can scan your inbox and build your travel itinerary — and it does a great job.

I’d like it if I never saw my inbox at all (as I plan to try out), but by analytics or by human redirection that actions, requests and services end up at the right places where they can be handled more efficiently.