New Yahoo!Mail, still a distracting mess

Yahoo!Mail shows two ad images. The one on the right flashes.

After a wave of nagging emails telling me to upgrade my old, barely-used Yahoo!Mail account, I clicked the button.

Yahoo! says mail is now faster: “up to twice as fast”. It doesn’t say what it is twice as fast as, presumably the old Yahoo! Mail.

While it may be faster, Yahoo!Mail is still way slower than Gmail. You don’t need to look far to see why. The application loads two colourful, flashing advertisements.

Flashy – and I don’t mean that in a good way

Not only does this slow Yahoo!Mail to the point of making it almost worthless – at least when compared to Gmail – the ads are distracting. I cannot focus on reading anything complicated or difficult when there’s flashing graphics on the right-hand edge of my screen.

Oh, and the advertisements displayed are totally irrelevant to my life. I’ve seen research which says readers are more forgiving when the advertising they see is relevant.

Yahoo!Mail offers a number of features that are clearly better than those in Gmail. Unlimited storage and being able to attach up to 100MB files to an email are huge pluses.

Pain barrier

Yet none of this matters a jot, if the application is painful to use.

We all understand service providers need to make money. Advertising pays for the mail service. But Gmail manages to do this without turning email into a battleground.

I’ll keep the Yahoo!Mail account for emergencies.

Xobni for Gmail review: lipstick on a pig

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

xobni for gmailI 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 individuals 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.

Wave bye bye

Good riddance to Google Wave.

I never understood what the fuss was about.

Wave may have been clever programming, but it didn’t do anything other applications already did better. Google has better tools for most Wave tasks.

It did instant messaging although Google already had one and a half tools that do the same job very well.

Wave did communications. Why bother when Gmail is so much better?

Wave was a collaboration tool. Who needs that when collaborating on Google Docs is so easy?

There was a social media twist to Wave, but Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are all simpler to use and way more polished.

Wave had a bad user interface and was difficult to use.

More importantly, it was difficult to understand what was going on and what one was supposed to do.

Rapportive boosts Gmail

Rapportive is a Gmail add-on. It shows information about the person who sent an email. Think of it as basic CRM (customer relationship management).

Rapportive’s data replaces Gmail’s right-hand advertising panel – which won’t endear Rapportive to Google.

There’s a similarity to Xobni, which works with Microsoft Outlook. But Rapportive is lighter. Xobni runs on your PC, while Rapportive lives in the cloud.

Rapportive pulls information from social media accounts linked to the person’s email. This means the results are variable. I’ve noticed plenty of information and even photographs for some of my contacts, but for many there is nothing.

I’ve written before about Xobni and about Gist, which is more complex.

When Outlook trumps Gmail

Three months ago I tested Gmail. My plan was to spend a week running all email through Gmail on my desktop, laptop and hand-held computers.

I wanted to move all my email accounts on all my systems through a single application as a way of simplifying things.

In practice it worked well. Routing my Gmail, POP3, Google Apps and Yahoo accounts through one in-box made sense.

Seeing the same messages through the same interface across my three systems made sense. The experiment was so successful I stayed with it for three months.

There was one small problem with Gmail: integrated search. It is easy to search Gmail messages. Email search is faster and more efficient than Outlook search tools.

I missed not being able to search Word and OneNote documents, text, HTML and email documents from a single, central location. But I figured this was only a minor irritation.

Then Windows 7 came along, with improved integrated search. It is noticeably better than Vista search and it works better with Outlook 2007. So much better, that I’ve reinstated Outlook 2007 as my main mail hub. I can use Outlook 2007 on my desktop and laptop, but not on my Palm hand-held.

This hardly matters, the Palm not the best device for writing email – though it is good for reading emails. And anyway, I suspect my trusty old Palm TX is not long for this world.

Update: I forgot the other bonus. Outlook 2007 integrates nicely with OneNote while it is a pain moving messages from Gmail to the application.

Gist beats Xobni tackling email, Twitter overload

Gist cuts through the deluge of incoming email, tweets and other messages.

It sorts, highlights and presents important material in a simple format.

After one day of using the application I its potential. Gist may become a lynch-pin. But I’m not  convinced I’ll use it long-term. Here’s why:

Gist works with Gmail, Google Calendar, Outlook, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Salesforce. The software is a free web-delivered or cloud application. There’s a paid subscription version in the pipeline.

Gist smart than Xobni

Like Xobni, Gist digs through emails and organises information, appointments and correspondence. Unlike Xobni it pulls together a range of information sources.

That’s smart, email is only one of a number of channels people deal with.

Gist displays data on a dashboard where you can quickly see what the software decides are your most important messages. You can also view the information by contact name.

Gist analyses your contacts then ranks them based on the number of communications with each person. The idea is to help you automatically filter out noise and focus on the most significant material.

Gist simplifies

In practice, it works, but only up to a point.

Here’s what it does well:

  • Gist does a great job of pulling together incoming material from different sources. I’m testing it with Gmail, Twitter and LinkedIn. Between the three I may have hundreds of incoming messages each day –  these are mainly tweets. Putting them all in one place is helpful.
  • My contacts have been automatically ordered in a league table, with the most important at the top. The list is good, but not perfect. The people I work with are on the first page, but there are people on the page who I don’t know well.
    And I’m not impressed to see Gist’s TA McCann as my most important contact.
  • I don’t use Salesforce and I haven’t yet tried Gist with Outlook so I feel a fraud for including this under the what Gist does well heading, but the software appears to integrate smoothly with these applications – which will certainly make it a powerful option for those people using either product.

Here’s what’s not so great:

  • While Gist is good at finding your important contacts, it can’t decide which material from those contacts is important. In my industry there’s a lot of chatter on Twitter and the occasional gem. Material from LinkedIn contacts is important but not vital, but most incoming emails are vital. I’d like to tell Gist to give email more weight than tweets – perhaps I can do this and I just haven’t found out how.
  • I still feel deluged. It is easier to get at some of the important material. I could use Gist instead of Tweetdeck. Gist is a better way of checking LinkedIn updates than the RSS feed I use. But Gist is not going to replace my email inbox soon.

Better than Xobni

Gist is better than Xobni. The last time I looked Xobni only worked with Outlook, although it can pull information from Facebook and LinkedIn. Gist adds Gmail and Twitter putting it way out in front.

Xobni integrates with Outlook, but the composite screen is cramped on my desktop display and hard to view on my laptop. Gist on the other hand is browser-based (although there are integrated versions) and is easier to read.

Lastly, I found Xobni was slow to use and I suspected it slowed down Outlook – although I couldn’t quantify this.