Socializing Your Inbox Is Inevitable

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-04-03

Socializing Your Inbox Is Inevitable

The race for the socialized inbox is on.

Xoopit went into private beta March 31 with its with a new personal media browser application that combs through the files, photos and videos floating in users' Gmail cloud and lets users post content on other social networks and blogs.

But the San Francisco startup is hardly the only vendor with its eye on the evolving e-mail space.

For the last five months or so, San Francisco startup Xobni has been enticing thousands of users to use a private beta of its plug-in for Microsoft Outlook.

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 about your interactions with that person, Xobni co-founder Matt Brezina told eWEEK April 2.

The profile includes a photo of the contact, when he checks his e-mail, the number of ingoing and outgoing messages, pulls his phone number from his signature and enables click-to-call capabilities via Skype.

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 exchanged.

Brezina noted that Xobni also has speedy e-mail search, solving one of the major pain points Outlook users experience when trying to search for an older e-mail with limited specific information.

"People are overwhelmed by their inbox," Brezina said. "Say I wanted to contact my lawyer's assistant to get minutes for a board meeting but I forget her name. With Xobni, I can click on my lawyer's profile, and find his assistant's name under his contact list. I can click on her name, which opens up her profile, and see anything she's sent."

Xobni is busy trying to integrate with other Web service providers and while Brezina declined to provide specifics, he said he could imagine integrations with popular services such as, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Indeed, what Xobni desires to be for Microsoft Outlook, the new Xoopit utility aims to be for Google's Gmail. Xoopit CEO and co-founder Bijan Marashi told eWEEK April 1 that he and his co-founder Jonathan Katzman realized early on that personal indexing would be a great way to solve the problem of the segmented, layered inbox in the cloud.

Now that Xoopit has provided such a service for Gmail, it hopes to do two things: get third-party application providers to build on top of Xoopit, and to get other Webmail providers to open up their APIs to let Xoopit into the fold.

Xoopit Up!

Yahoo has a Yahoo Mail API prototype but no open protocol yet beyond what it offers for premium Yahoo Mail subscribers. Microsoft March 25 unveiled a Windows Live Contacts API to let contacts between different social networks sites such as LinkedIn and Hi5.

Marashi expects that other mail platform providers "imminently will become more enlightened and understand that third-party application developers can engage their users on their site and make the experience much better."

While Marashi is wishing and hoping for these universally open platforms, Yahoo is busy with its own Inbox 2.0 vision for Yahoo Mail. The company this year will launch OneConnect, a suite that includes a social address book to let users access their MySpace or LinkedIn accounts from their address books.

Like Xoopit and Xobni, the software will allow users to view status updates, photo uploads and the recent activity of contacts across their networks.

Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li and other analysts are also discussing the notion of e-mail inboxes as the starting points for social networks.

"The idea that your inbox would be highly socialized is very valid," Li told eWEEK April 1. "The key thing is pulling out attachments, and identifying a JPEG, GIF, or a video, and putting it into a central place. It takes out a lot of the friction that is associated with social media today, especially if one of the key ways you get your content is via e-mail."

Xoopit, Xobni and Yahoo are all hewing to this notion, but will they realize their goals? Xobni and Xoopit currently offer their services free, but both expect to make money from ad generation similar to the way Google does with e-mail. Both expect third-party programmers to jump on board to build out their respective tools.

However, TechCrunch claims Xobni is a target for acquisition by Microsoft, which makes sense because such as tool would save Microsoft the time and trouble of building it themselves.

And since Xoopit is tailored for Google's Gmail, we might expect the same rumors to burble up if Xoopit gains momentum. Acquisitions of Xobni and Xoopit by Microsoft and Google, respectively, would give those rivals the social inbox firepower to meet Yahoo head on.

The space bears watching.

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