While the latest upgrades to Xobni give Outlook a shot in the arm, they serve to underline desktop mail’s shortcomings. Giving up on Outlook and moving to Gmail or another web mail service may be better.

Xobni (that’s inbox backwards) turns everyday mail into relationship management by focusing on people, not messages.

In technical terms, the program is a Microsoft Outlook plug-in. It sits on top of the desktop application. Xobni digs into Outlook’s data, slicing and dicing it to emphasis your links with other people.

Once the plug-in is loaded and data is synchronised, Xobni’s toolbar occupies the right hand side of Outlook’s main display. It provides contact information about the person who sent the incoming message.

You’ll see the person’s name at the top of the Xobni pane along with their photo if you’ve stored one in your Outlook Contacts. You’ll also find statistics on how often you have communicated with them and a rank. That way you’ll know something about that person’s importance to you.

If there is a phone number to be found anywhere in the messages or contact details, that’ll be shown – and it’s clickable. Likewise there’s a link allowing you to quickly schedule a calendar appointment with that person.

Xobni shows recent conversations and email threads between you and the person in question along with clickable links to any attachments that have travelled between you. There are also improvements to Outlook search – though Microsoft’s updated desktop search nullifies the value of this.

Instant productivity payoff

On their own, none of these features are earth-shattering, but together they deliver an instant productivity payoff. You’ll find you won’t need to switch between your messages and contact database – that’s a timesaver in itself. You’ll also need to run fewer searches – just about everything relevant to an email is quickly to hand.

Some of Xobni’s features seem advanced. For example, the program does a pretty job of figuring out when someone uses more than one email address and lumping all their messages together. Another neat trick is the way it mines emails for the names of other people in your contact database, then displaying them in a clickable form.

Xobni isn’t only improved productivity; it also delivers a fresh people-oriented way of looking at information that will allow you to build better relationships.

Not convinced by Xobni

I used Xobni for a few months when it first appeared this time last year. While the application looks good and may deliver a productivity boost to some users, I found it doesn’t help me in any practical way. If anything, it’s reports were a distraction. They are pretty to look at and moderately interesting at first – but that’s about it.

What’s more, Gmail’s functionality has improved to the point where it’s now borderline perverse for a person working alone to prefer Outlook over webmail. Ironically, Gmail’s weakness is the way it handles people. If Xobni’s functionality could be added to Gmail, it would be a killer product.

Finally, I’ve noticed Xobni slows Outlook down and on occasion stops it from working — albeit temporarily.

Xobni may make sense if you work for a company where you have to use Outlook, practically live in Outlook and the support policy is liberal enough to allow you to install it.

Xobni is the chrome plated hubcaps and giant tailfins on those beautiful, but dinosaur-like American cars from the 1960s in an era when we drive more practical Toyotas. It an anachronism.

2 thoughts on “Still not convinced by Xobni

  1. Wow. Thanks Bill for the lead in. SenderOK doesn’t yet have the great links to LinkedIn, Facebook and Hoovers but we are Xobni’s match otherwise and we do work well with Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo!Mail.

    For the next 10 days or so one will still have to have Outlook installed on your Windows machine, but you won’t have to use Outlook. Soon even that requirement will be a memory. Gmail users…hello.

    Xobni is great for Outlook users (like myself) with multiple pst files to search. They beat us there. But our photo business card is visible in the header pane (and preview pane) and does not use the kind of resources that their Microsoft .net Framework application takes.

    Since we now have the Gmail market to ourselves, let me convince you to please write about us:

    We sort email by importance and will virtually take good emails out of your spam box and put them in the virtual important folder. That in itself is a reason to install.

    We can also turn on an email authentication aspect if email senders pay us to authenticate their email for our users. Favicons would be seen in the user inbox instead of the boring square envelope icon. Plus, the authenticated email would be prevented by the plug-in from going into the junk box. That is worth some money from honest, non-spamming corporations who don’t send spam (or honestly don’t think they do).

    Obviously, we cannot have a free plug-in not monetize.

  2. Check out Xobni’s blog. Apparently they are moving into a beta stage with their Gmail plug-in.

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