In November of last year IBM announced Verse. In their words, “a new freemium social collaboration offering that uses built-in analytics to give individuals a new way to converse, find the right people and information fast, and get work done.” This week my invitation arrived to try out Verse, to see if it lives up to the claims. Since this is an email marketing column I don’t intend to write a general review of Verse, but an overview of how Verse may impact email marketing.
IBM Verse is effectively a Web interface on top of IBM’s Notes collaboration suite. As such it feels like a natural evolution of that system albeit one with more modern collaboration and organization capabilities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in comparison to products such as Google’s Inbox Verse feels very traditional. A read through the Verse website suggests that this is precisely IBM’s goal. To enable users to work in much the same way they always have but more efficiently by solving some of the current collaboration solutions’ shortcomings. This is summed up in the phrase “Do what you do, better.”
Verse is aimed squarely at business email. It’s not intended to compete with Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail. As such its impact will primarily be on B2B marketers. For those marketers Verse feels very much like business as usual. There is no automated filtering, prioritization, or categorization of incoming email a la Gmail. Instead, Verse makes it easy to flag and filter on important people and to make notes and task reminders. It is likely that marketing emails will therefore end up in recipients’ inboxes alongside other email.
Though the trend of late has been to automatically load images, at least for authenticated messages, Verse does not currently to do this. Even DKIM authenticated emails or those from senders in your address book do not have images loaded by default. On a related note there is also no easy way to add a sender to your address book. The sender’s email address is not shown by default and there is no easy “add to address book” function.
My testing so far indicates that the HTML rendering is at least a step forward from that of IBM Notes. Some might call that “damning with faint praise,” and there are still some issues. Table background colors were being lost during nesting and so forth but I’ll await analysis from experts such as Litmus or Email on Acid for a detailed breakdown. Hopefully any shortcomings at this time will be addressed before full release.
The stated intention with Verse is to provide a complete mobile experience. Screenshots on the website suggest an IOS experience much like the Apple native email client but with sharing and notational enhancements. Currently, however, mobile is Web-only with no native app. In addition my attempts to use Verse on my iPhone failed – I ended up at an IBM Notes page that went into a continuous refresh loop.
Another area that’s always a concern is how spam filtering will work. For deliverability people, Verse will present much the same challenges as Google for Business, Microsoft Office 365, or any situation with many domains hosted by a single provider. The downside is that filtering is typically consistent across the set of hosted domains, so blocking has a larger impact. The upside, though, is that the rules tend to be less arbitrary and resolving one resolves all. IBM also has some very experienced postmasters and abuse team members.
What is most interesting is how the learning aspects of Verse may impact email marketers. In my testing I did not see any impact from Verse’s learning or understanding. IBM says that “By learning user preferences and priorities over time, IBM Verse provides instant context about a given project as well as the people and teams collaborating on it.” As an individual user I may have been missing out on some of the team collaboration features, but as an email marketer I did not see anything that would have an impact on how I would design or implement campaigns to Verse users.
Often when email providers develop new approaches to email and implement capabilities to streamline workflows marketers get concerned. The furor around Gmail’s image caching and smart inbox initiatives come to mind. With Verse, however, I don’t see anything that should concern email marketers. It should be business as usual. Send opt-in email that people want and Verse will place it in their inbox.
 Since this article was written a native IOS app has been released though it is only available for a paid Verse subscription.