Analysis: Xobni would have been a nice addition to help unburden Outlook customers. Too bad Microsoft blew it.
Microsoft may have left Yahoo at the altar, but that doesn't mean it can't
wed another, or at least adopt a little brother.
might have been the
perfect match. The San Francisco
startup May 5 emerged from beta with its inbox socialization software, a tool
that hundreds of millions of Microsoft Outlook users could download to organize
their e-mail by relationships. Xobni ("inbox" spelled backwards) is
what Outlook might look like if it were turned into a social network.
But it looks like Microsoft whiffed on this opportunity, according to this post from TechCrunch.
A dose of irony:
Xobni's CEO is former Yahoo executive Jeff
Xobni could make Outlook more appealing to customers by adding social tools
to what is still a bland, cumbersome e-mail application.
The value of this to Microsoft can't be understated. It is woefully behind
in socialization tools, but has said that it wants to gain more leverage in the
market beyond its $240 million stake in Facebook.
As social networks such as Facebook and MySpace have matured, the value of a tool like Xobni (and its Gmail
cousin Xoopit) has become increasingly clear.
E-mail forms the hub of communication in social networks, and some users of
those sites say they don't even use Outlook or Gmail accounts anymore because
they largely communicate with their friends, colleagues and other contacts
within the parameters of the social network.
Once downloaded, Xobni shows up as a sidebar in Outlook, analyzing e-mail in
a way that's more attuned to human nature than just zeroes and ones. The tool
creates a sidebar next to the community page inside Outlook, so that when a
user clicks on a message, it automatically generates a profile of his or her
interactions with the sender of the message.
The profile includes a photo of the contact, when he or she checks e-mail, and
the number of ingoing and outgoing messages. It also pulls the contact's phone
number from his or her signature and enables click-to-call capabilities via
Below the profile window is a social network of e-mail, where users can look
at historical e-mail in threaded conversations (similar to Gmail) and see their
contacts' contacts. There is a separate section that shows what files were
The tool received a warm reception at the TechCrunch40 conference in
September 2007, receiving thousands of downloads in a few hours. According to a
Xobni statement, the company limited the beta to digest user feedback and
iterate on the product in its early stages.
Xobni could be a start for Microsoft if Microsoft hadn't
spooked it, or if the two companies ever decide to rekindle their flirtation. Unlike
Yahoo, Xobni fits the bill of a typical Microsoft acquisition because it's
small. Even better, it's already built to run on top of Outlook, meaning
Microsoft needn't do much should it acquire the company.
Xobni also offered this profound-sounding statement in its
release: "A true beta is an idea rarely visited in what's become a
development culture obsessed with launching as quickly as possible, sometimes
without consideration of the product's future."
Sounds like something out of Google's product release playbook, or lack
But it is just as probable that the reason for the
limited beta is that Xobni didn't want to crash its own computer systems. Under
the auspices of the bountiful Microsoft data centers, this potential
catastrophe would be moot.