Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Xobni Outlook Add-In

This is the coolest piece of software I have found in some time. I use Outlook constantly, and this add-in is the best. In our corporate environment, we live and die by email. Xobni is a tool that changes the way Outlook handles messages into something that is intuitive and consolidated. Briefly, items are linked together and grouped into conversations based on user profiles. Xobni pulls information together into one place, linked together in a way that matters to the end-user. It also provides analytical data for people you communicate with and how you communicate with them. I know that all of this sounds strange right now, but I will go into more detail with it below.

Currently, Xobni is a free add-in for Outlook 2003/2007. I have already become severely addicted to this tool in one day. There aren't many tools that I need for work that I would spend my own money on. I would for this one. It changes the way I work. I have already turned off the reading pane in Outlook (I use 2007).

Starting with the main screen, this tool shows how different it is than any other Outlook tool.

The graph at the top of the window shows the best time to contact this user. The times at which they send you the most emails.

It also shows the number of messages that you have sent/received from this user, as well as where that person ranks in your network.

The next section shows the contact information for this user. The telephone numbers are pulled from their signatures, rather than from their contact information. This avoids the problem of not having someone added to your contacts. This pane also allows you to send a quick email that shows your availability for the next week. This provides a nice way to schedule meetings with people that don't have Outlook for scheduling meetings. Finally, there is a quick link to generate a new message to the user.

The next pane shows the contacts. These contacts are associated with the currently selected user's profile. The contacts are derived from messages that the selected user has sent to these contacts. This is what constitutes a user's "network". Hovering over any of these contacts provides relevant contact information such as email address and phone number (also pulled from their signature).

Below this pane is the conversations pane. This doesn't just show the current conversation, but all conversations with the selected contact, regardless of the selected message. This makes finding related information easier to find as well as quickly finding any messages for this user. This view also shows messages with attachments by displaying a small paper clip.

Clicking on any of the conversations displayed will open a new "tab" that will display additional details about this conversation such as, additional messages of the conversation, the original email, the other contacts that were included in this message string, and any files that were included. There is also a very neat "details" slider that can allow for the display of more or less details in the conversation. Additionally, there are some details like when the messages were sent/received, the total number of messages that make up the conversation, and the users included.

Finally, the "Files Exchanged" pane shows all file attachments that have been sent/received with the selected contact.This makes finding attachments quick and easy. There is no more searching (with the MSN desktop search) to find attachments that may or may not be from the user you need.

Each of the panes offer a search button to search just that category. It is also possible to display only that pane so that finding attachments, contacts, or conversations only can be quick and efficient. There are also additional features that are too detailed or I haven't quite discovered how to implement into my daily work life just yet. I will.

Some of our users are obscene with their emails. We have been looking for a way to help them manage the thousands of messages they send and receive each week. This is the very tool I have been searching for. I was going to try and devise several different methods for them to use Outlook's categories and search folders (which may still be necessary, but to a lesser degree), but I think this is the ticket. I will be installing it as a pilot for 1 or 2 users on Thursday.

Some additional Xobni links:
Homepage: http://www.xobni.com
Download: http://www.xobni.com/download
Learn More: http://www.xobni.com/learnmore

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