1: Gmail

Getting a Gmail address was easy as I already had a number of existing accounts. I’ve decided to forward everything from everywhere to a single Gmail account and gradually stop using old email addresses.

If you don’t already have a Gmail account, just hop over to gmail.com and sign up – you’re late to the party so you won’t great choice of available names. This doesn’t matter as nobody has to see your Gmail address.

2: Domain name

Again this was straightforward, I chose a .co.nz name because New Zealand is a small country with an uncrowded domain name register which made it easy to get the domain name I wanted. It cost NZ$40 to own billbennett.co.nz, but New Zealand names are renewed annually which is a pain.

3: Host

My existing web host was good enough. There’s a minor technical problem which causes problems elsewhere, but the one I use isn’t expensive and the company is easy to deal with.

I pay NZ$130 a year for 100MB of storage and plenty of bandwidth. You don’t need much of either to handle an email account, so opt for the smallest possible hosting plan unless you aim to use the service for something else.

4: Set-up mail account

My host uses a program called Cpanel. It allows me to manage the site through a web browser. I opened Cpanel and clicked on the Mail icon. A list displayed with a number of options, I chose Add/ Remove/ Manage Accounts. From here I added the email account bill@billbennett.co.nz.

You need to set up a password and a quota at this point – which is an amount of storage space to set aside for email. I’m not planning to keep email on the server, but during the testing stage I set aside 2MB of storage. This was a good move, because I hit a minor snag.

5: Redirect

I struggled  finding out how to redirect email traffic from my host using Cpanel. That’s because I used the Email Domain Forwarding option. While this looks like the right tool – it isn’t.

I then tried, incorrectly, setting up forwarding from Cpanel’s built-in Horde web mail program. The correct tool to use at this point is cryptically listed in the Cpanel/Mail menu as Forwarders.

Here you need to click on Add Forwarder and then enter the new email address followed by the Gmail account where you plan to receive your mail.

6: Tell Gmail about your new account

I did this by logging on to Gmail, clicking the Settings link at the top right of the window and then on the Accounts tab. Here I added the new address, verified it, then made it the default.

It’s a good idea to test your new email address at this point. When I did this I had some problems with the redirecting and found my emails sitting in the Horde web mail inbox on the server at my host.

Now, my next job is to make sure the new address appears everywhere online. This will take some time to fix. I made a good start by Googling my old addresses, but there are hundreds of instances so it’s not going to happen overnight.

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.