Martin Atherton, Freeform Comment

I’m not a major player when it comes to gadgets and tools, I often download things and they remain unused, and whenever I get around to it, cleared out.

A recent invite to download something ‘I might find of use’ from my colleague Jon Collins, no stranger himself to finding new things to play with led me to installing Xobni, an Outlook plug-in that’s been around since September last year and ‘helps you organise your flooded inbox’. Except it doesn’t help me organise my flooded inbox. It’s better than that. ‘Helping organise’ infers that I have to do something, and that, for me, usually means I don’t, or won’t.

Given ten minutes, Xobni goes off and looks at your inbox (and archive) and is ready to work. A one word search brings up relevant emails, attachments and the like. Sure, that’s already a (albeit slightly flaky) feature of outlook but what isn’t is the ability to let you ‘zoom’ in and out of conversations you had with people, show the files you swapped, other people linked to that person, a cool looking mini ‘graphic equaliser’ bar chart showing when someone has contacted you, and contact details shown prominently. You can go backwards and forwards through searches without having to start over. Simply put, it’s a small but significant step forwards for me.

I get the name too: In-box, backwards. Rather than sitting at the end of (too many) singular messages, it wraps up lines of communications into relationships and conversations. It’s like the control you felt you had while writing singular mails, except you still feel in control even after a multitude of replies, forwards and attachments. In that sense, the name fits.

I quite like it, and I’m not the only one. I assume that Microsoft will buy it at some point and make Xobni’s features native to Outlook. It does beg the question (as I’ve read somewhere) ‘what was the Microsoft Outlook team doing while the Xobni guys were doing this?’ Waiting patiently perhaps.

The bigger picture is also of relevance. We can’t continue wrapping our arms around the data we own / think we might need but don’t know when, we’d rapidly (perhaps we already have) run out of space – certainly time, trying. Employing tools that work, and that we can begin to trust to find things for us on, when we need them, is. I don’t know if this encourages us to become even more slovenly in terms of keeping things ‘tidy’, but then again, how much control do we actually have over our inboxes even when we try? Even deleting the junk seems to be a job in itself.

When we consider ‘business intelligence’ these days what we really mean is gaining control over the increasing volumes of information – much of which does actually have some business value associated with it (especially in smaller organisations like ours where email and other conduits of unstructured data are the primary means of capturing and sending information) – we receive and use.

I’ve seen the light, and although it’s taken me some time, I’ve taken a step forwards in gaining control – by letting go and trusting something to do it for me. It feels good. I have other things to worry about.

Next stop: information management at a group level – we’re slowly extending the scope in which we utilise the latest version of SharePoint. I’ll report back soon.



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