Nothing beats Gmail as an email reader. Even so, the application has a glaring weak spot: Google’s feeble contact manager.
Which explains why I was keen to review Xobni for Gmail. As it says on the Xobni website; “Stop wasting time manually managing contacts”.
Xobni for Gmail looks good and is clever. Sadly it does little to fix the contact manager.
At this stage Xobni for Gmail is lipstick on the Google Contacts pig.
Xobni for Gmail tested on Chrome
I tested Xobni for Gmail on Google’s Chrome browser. There is a Firefox version, but not one for Internet Explorer. People wedded to Explorer are likely to be heavily in the Microsoft camp and will get more out of using Xobni with Outlook.
Xobni adds a side-panel to Gmail with information about email contacts allowing you to search for names. It provides immediate information about people with name, job and company details. In many cases there are also pictures and social network information.
Installing Xobni for Gmail
Installing takes a minute. After restarting Chrome and Gmail, Xobni takes over the right-most panel. The application asks you to grant access to your Gmail account. If you’re worried by the security implications of this, you’re not going to like Xobni – you can stop reading now.
It takes surprisingly long for Xobni to pull the information from Gmail – more than an hour in my case.
When you’re in the Gmail list view, Xobni displays a list of ‘trending contacts‘. It isn’t entirely clear what criteria are used to decide who and what is a trending contact. The fourth, fifth and seventh people on my trending contacts list are people who I’ve never communicated with, Xobni tells me they were copied-in on emails recently sent to me.
That may need tweaking. I’d like the list to show people I swap emails with.
Where Xobni is more useful
Xobni is more use when you open and read an email. It shows the information it can find about the person. There’s also a graph showing how often that person emailed you and a message like this:
XXXXXX has included you on 8 messages since May 2011, most likely via a distribution list. The first message was to XXXX on May 10, 2011, and was regarding ‘XXXXX’.
Other tabs take you to a list of the most recent emails from the person and as much social media information as Xobni can find – including the person’s latest tweet. It also shows mutual contacts – although I’m not sure how that might be useful. You can edit some of the information.
Sadly, Xobni for Gmail doesn’t link with Google Contacts. This is a major omission.
Beware of the Beta
Major omissions may be fixed. At the moment Xobni for Gmail is a beta version. I tested version 0.1. I didn’t run into any serious hiccups, but I’m not looking at the finished product here.
I’m also concerned about the privacy aspects of Xobni pulling information from Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and so on.
But is Xobni really useful?
Xobni for Gmail is, in effect, another way of displaying information from a number of online sources. Although it does a good job of pulling material from Gmail and offers a handy search tool, search is Google’s strength. The add-on barely adds any functionality.
Overall, Xobni is a nice-to-have, not a must-have. While the information it displays is sometimes useful, it is rarely essential. It does little to improve productivity.