Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Xobni is for E-mail Pack Rats

Normally, I don't like installing third-party apps on my computer. But being a notorious e-mail packrat, an application to help organize e-mails in Microsoft Outlook caught my attention this morning. Called Xobni, it provides comprehensive search tools, and complete "profiles" on everyone you e-mail, from their phone number, to your most recent conversations with them, mutual contacts, and even a history of attachments shared between the two of you. I'm often trying to weed through tons and tons of e-mails to find things, and Outlook's own search function can only do so much. So I thought I'd give Xobni a try.

I downloaded the service from (it took a matter of seconds), and instantly, it began to scan my e-mails to build its database. After about 8 minutes, I was notified that all of my recent e-mails had been scanned, and the rest would scan "when I wasn't using my computer". (Yes, I have that many!) During the wait time, however, little interesting tidbits of information popped up, like the fact that, by 2009, we'll reportedly spend 49% of our work time managing e-mails, and that my colleague Robert is my third most-emailed contact (funny considering we have offices beside one another!) Note: you must have Windows XP or Vista and be using Outlook 2003 or 2007 for it to run.

The Xobni panel sits on the right side of the Outlook window. If you highlight an e-mail, all of that person's information automatically pops up. You can also search for a person by name or look up a keyword in Xobni's own search tool (results appear as I type). I pulled up data on our Website designer, and found that we most often converse via e-mail in the mornings, we have 39 mutual contacts, we've had over 1,000 conversations, and recently exchanged 18 files between one another. Neat!

The service is still in its beta stage, so there are definitely some kinks to be worked out. For example, it can extract phone numbers from e-mail signatures or text to automatically populate the phone number field for a contact. This, as you can imagine, can't be foolproof. What if I send an e-mail to someone saying "you can reach Bob Smith at 416-555-5555". Will Xobni then think that's MY number? I've already noticed a discrepancy here: in an e-mail note this morning to a contact, my phone number was included in my signature, but the recipient's wasn't. As a result, the phone number that appears as hers is actually mine!

The appeal with Xobni is, no doubt, the cool factor, but it can also work as a useful tool. I'm often searching for old e-mails to find a high-res photo attachment or correspondence on a particular topic. Outlook has its own search function: true. But Xobni helps you make links that aren't possible with Outlook. For example, I'll, from time to time, contact the wrong PR person at a company for information, because I simply don't remember who deals with which account. Through Xobni, I can search for the first name I recall at that company, check our mutual contacts and a history of conversations, and find out who's the right person to call for what I need. Here's another example: if I need to call someone, I'll often sort my Outlook e-mails by name, then scan recent e-mails to find one where the person mentions a cell number, or where a number is included in a signature. With Xobni, I just punch in the person's name, and a phone number automatically pops up if it was ever included in a note.

I've only just started using Xobni, so I can't confirm that it's the be-all-and-end-all of e-mail organization. And it certainly isn't for everyone. But if you're averse to deleting e-mails like I am, and tend to keep e-mails in a somewhat disorganized manner, it's definitely worth a try. But beware: some are calling it "social networking" for Outlook, so you might just end up replacing the time you spend searching for e-mails with checking the "rank" of each of your contacts (who do you e-mail the most?) and other interesting facts about your contacts!

Happy Searching!

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Anonymous said...

I have downloaded the software today and it seems pretty interesting.I especially enjoyed the little tidbits of who you e-mail the most and who you reply to fastest. Very neat!

Ian said...

Hey, great find! I'll have to try this out on the weekend :)

I'll have to wait for a Thunderbird addon since that is what I use at work.