liaise-logoFor a lot of people (like me), email has become the center of working life. The challenge, of course, is getting all that useful information out of your inbox. That’s where a startup called Liaise comes in — it looks at the contents of your emails, figures out which items require action, and turns those items into a to-do list.

The Sunnyvale, Calif. company is launching its service at DEMOfall 09 this week, the technology conference co-produced by VentureBeat. It works as a plugin for Microsoft’s email program Outlook, and unlike plugins like Xobni, which try to extract social data, it looks for to-do items.

Let’s say my editor Matt Marshall installed Liaise and sent me the following email: “Hi Anthony — Please make sure your DEMO post is ready by Tuesday morning. Thanks, Matt.” The software would know that the first and last sentence were formalities, while the middle one was an action item. It would (hopefully) also realize that the task was assigned to me, and that Tuesday was the deadline. Liaise would even try to gauge the task’s priority. Then, without digging through his inbox, Matt could look at his task-list and confirm that he’d asked me to make sure the DEMO post was ready.

I haven’t had a chance to test Liaise seriously, but judging from the web demo, it seems to do a good job of spotting and deciphering action items. The company calls its technology KeyPoint Intelligence, and says that as you use the software, it even learns from your writing style. And even if Liaise isn’t that good at distinguishing real assignments from idle chatter, you can always go in and edit things, identifying action items and tweaking the priority.

The software is useful even if you’re emailing people who don’t use it, because it still gives you a to-do list for your own reference. But Liaise should work even better if everyone on the team has installed it. Then you can share and synchronize those action items, and you’ve got a group list you can go over during meetings.

Co-founder and chief executive Sidney Minassian says the company’s next steps involve moving beyond Outlook to webmail programs like Gmail. Liaise is free while in beta testing, but will eventually cost between $4.95 and $9.95 per month.

The company has raised a first round of funding from Southern Cross Ventures Partners.