Will little Xobni outhustle Microsoft in making Outlook more usable?

Summary:Xobni ("inbox" spelled backwards) has just gotten an investment from the legendary VC and Sun co-founder Vinod Khosla and others in modest series A funding. The company is developing intelligent add-ons for Microsoft Exchange/Outlook that offer a higher degree of control and smarts to your inbox.

Xobni ("inbox" spelled backwards) has just gotten an investment from the legendary VC and Sun co-founder Vinod Khosla and others in modest series A funding. The company is developing intelligent add-ons for Microsoft Exchange/Outlook that offer a higher degree of control and smarts to your inbox. According the company, Xobni Analytics for Outlook will give users insight into their email usage patterns, such as:

  • How do you use email?   
  • How much time do you spend reading and writing emails?   
  • How quickly do you respond to emails?
  • What time of the day is best for contacting busy people? 
  • What time of the day do you receive your most important email?   
  • How much time do you spend reading mailing lists?

My question is how capable and proactive Xobni will be as a kind of intelligent agent that can make time spend in email more efficient, weeding out spam, prioritizing messages and even scheduling meetings. It appears the company is in need to a few great programmers before we will find out. 

Another question is why hasn't Microsoft dealt with this problem yet. Microsoft Research has spend hundreds or thousands of person hours on this kind of problem, which it calls "email triage. In a 2005 research paper, "Beyond 'From' and 'Received': Exploring the Dynamics of Email Triage," Microsoft researchers conclude new email interfaces would be a big help:

Email triage is the process of going through unhandled email and deciding what to do with it. Email triage can quickly become a serious problem for users as the amount of unhandled email grows. We investigate the problem of email triage by presenting interview and survey results that articulate user needs for email triage. The results suggest the need for email user interfaces to provide additional socially salient information in order to bring important emails to the forefront.

Microsoft Research also came up with SNARF(Social Network and Relationship Finder) a few years ago, but so far Outlook is not doing much of the way of SNARFing. In addition, Microsoft Outlook Mobile Manager 2.2 (now supporting Windows Vista and Outlook 2007) can prioritize messages and makes somewhat intelligent decisions about when to send email is available as a Microsoft Research download.

What's taking so long to go from the lab to officially shipping product? At least it gives a chance for a Xobni to surface, perhaps for a few moments or as a product that Microsoft cannot resist acquiring.  

See also: Gigaom

Topics: Collaboration

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