Blog, Microsoft, Podcasts

Xobni – Changing How You Use Your Inbox

24 Jul , 2008  

I like to talk about innovate products and Xobni, the plugin for Outlook,definitely fits the bill. I blogged about Xobni on my NWW blog back in Februaryand as you can tellfrom that post, I was and still am excited about Xobni. Unlike most thingsthat get installed on my computer only to be removed a few days or weeks later,the "coolness" of Xobni hasn’t worn off. More importantly the usefulness ofXobni causes me to have it stick around and take up real estate in my Outlookwindow. But Xobni isn’t perfect, either. I see some real challenges to be ableto truly gain the benefits it could bring to email, but we’ll talk about that ina moment.

Here’s a video tour of Xobni. Also check out my podcast interview with Matt Brezina,co-founder of Xobni. I’m starting to do more product reviews and strategy workas part of my Converging Network business, which is a pleasure since I enjoyworking with and assessing new products and trends anyway.

(Contact me if you areinterested in finding out more about my Converging Network product strategyservices.)

Xobni – The Movie

  

Xobni – Email’s New Connection To People

Now that Xonbi integrates with LinkedIn, I find that I use it a lot more.It’s actually the little features I Xobni I like most. Showing someone’sportrait loaded up on LinkedIn when I click on their email makes the connectionto that person even more real. It makes email just a little more personal. And,if I don’t know them well, it’s easy to go learn about the person from theirLinkedIn profile. (You have a LinkedInprofile with a picture uploaded don’t you? Here’s mine. Letsconnect!)

One of the most useful things about Xobni is knowing the email habits of thepeople I converse and work with regularly. The little bar chart showing thedistribution time of emails received from them throughout the day lets me knowwhen they are more likely to read the emails I send, or take my call. This couldalso be invaluable to a sales person looking to reach clients, though I’m notsure people these days answer phone calls from people they don’t know. (Salespeople tell me virtually no one answers their business phone much any more.)

Xobni – Changing How You Use Email

It’s rare for me to keep a gadget or plugin around for long. Their installedhalf-life is usually about 2 days, or no more than two weeks on my computers. Soyou know Xobni must be delivering something of value, especially given thescreen real estate it takes in Outlook.

Changing how you use email is a double-edged sword, as I’ll talk more aboutin a moment. I find the attachments ("Files Exchanged") section of the Xobniplug-in one if it’s most useful functional features. It can prevent a lot ofsearching for the right email with the right attachment, and you can dig indeeper if you want to see the email or email thread the attachment was a partof.

I haven’t found that I use the "XYZ’s Network" section (where it shows youother people who have been in conversations with you and this person) as much asI thought I would. It’s a great idea, but I just haven’t added that capabilityinto my email use thought patterns for some reason. The "Email Conversations"thread is also something that I don’t use much, mostly because I don’t find theway the threads are presented as being that useful. I’ll say some more aboutthis down below.

Xobni – Kudos For Being A Well Behaved Outlook Plugin

My first rule of all plugin is "be useful". I really don’t need an AdobeAcrobat plugin for Outlook or PowerPoint. Is use the print driver to create pdffiles. Same for screen captures. That’s why I have SnagIt. So, unless there’s areally good reason why this plugin is needed, don’t create them in the firstplace, and certainly don’t install them by default. Xobni definitely meets the"be useful" criteria.

The second rule is "don’t create other problems". How many times does yourOutlook crash because of some funky plugin or software incompatibly. It seemsvirtually guaranteed that if any other software other than Outlook touches yourpst and ost files, you’re doomed for the dreaded "Not Responding" message. Ihave to say that I’ve had relatively few problems with Xobni and Outlook. Notthat its never happened, as I have encountered a few situations where Xobni hadthe files open that Outlook needs in order to start properly. But the problemsand crashes have been very, very few.

Kudos to the Xobni team for figuring out how to do this. They should bottleup whatever they are doing and help all the other software guys figure out howto do the same.

Xobni – The Challenge Of Getting The Benefits

Xobni has two big challenges in my view. First, all of Xobni’scapabilities are constrained by being in an Outlook sidebar plugin. There’slimited screen real estate, and it’s mostly vertical. Networks of people(lists), conversations (lists), viewing email threads, all have to be viewed inthis small area and it does detract from its usability and usefulness. Becauseof this, I don’t use the email threads feature much at all, and the relativelystatic content (time distribution bar graph, email stats, portrait and contactinfo) are the things I look at and use most. It’s a tough row to hoe being in asidebar and Xobni would be much more useful if it was integrated into the emailclient itself. Tell me again why Microsoft hasn’t gobbled up Xobni by now?Hmm.

Xobni also implies multiple user behavior changes to access its benefits. Weuse email clients so frequently everyday, all through the day, that the use casehabits we’ve formed with Outlook are hard very to break. Instead of sorting backand forth between sender and sent date in order to locate what I’m looking for,you have to break that habit and look in the Xobni sidebar for what you mighthunting to find. You have to remember "oh, there’s another way to find the lastversion of that attachment sent to Bob", and go over and use Xobni to do that.On the flip side, being an Outlook sidebar plugin is an advantage over being aseparate application from Outlook all together.

Breaking patterns and habit changes are something every product faces tovarying degrees, but email’s so heavily used that those habits are moredifficult to break.

Xobni – Conclusion: Download It. You’ll Use It.

Download Xobni. I think that title pretty much sums it up.

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