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In the Briefing Room: Xobni Plus

For many knowledge workers, the e-mail inbox is the center of their universe.  It has assumed this exalted position in part because e-mail is the path of least resistance for many activities.  We should not, however, equate this status with it being the best or most efficient path.

Knowledge workers overuse e-mail.  They use it to compose long documents that would be better done in a content management system.  They use it to file information, which really should reside in a records management system.  They send e-mail messages to too many people and hit reply-to-all indiscriminately.

By 2010, knowledge workers will receive daily, on average, upwards of 93 e-mail messages, dozens of instant messages, multiple text messages, messages from social networks, not to mention a few phone calls.

Given its popularity, e-mail overload is the prominent component of Information Overload, although search and content management aren’t that far behind.

Given its singular status as an information repository, a number of companies have provided tools to manage the savage inbox.  One such company is Xobni, which has offered its eponymously-named e-mail management tool for over a year.

I had an opportunity to meet with Matt Brezina, Xobni’s co-founder, and his team a few weeks ago and learn more about what Xobni can do in this regard.  Matt not only speaks of “information overload” but of “relationship overload” and positions Xobni as a tool that can help with both.

Xobni adds a sidebar to Microsoft Outlook that comes with an easy-to-use and intuitive user interface.  It improves on Outlook’s own search facility both in speed and in its ability to build advanced queries on the fly and search across conversation threads.

One of my favorite features in Xobni is its ability to pull information together from a variety of sources including Facebook, LinkedIn, adding in people’s photos and the names of their assistants, if applicable.  This creates context around information that might otherwise appear to be somewhat random.   As more and more information flows via social networks, some of it important, most of it inconsequential, we will start to see the relationship overload, of which Matt speaks, become more of a challenge.

This week Xobni launched Xobni Plus, a paid version of the service (the original version remains free).  New features include the advanced search query builder; the ability to search calendar items, networks, and conversations (with additional support for filtering within the conversation); support for phrases and Boolean queries; AutoSuggest, which is a feature that provides automatic suggestions if one cannot remember someone’s exact name or e-mail address; and an enhanced profiling feature that displays past and upcoming appointments when viewing an e-mail.

While Xobni won’t make e-mail or relationship overload go away, it does lessen their impact and makes it easier for knowledge workers to unlock critical information that may be hidden away in e-mail.