Since October 2008 I've exchanged 7630 e-mails with my brother and business partner, Jeff. The first of those was on October 16th, a message about advertising on our weekly podcast. There are about 133 people who regularly appear in our conversations, the most frequent being our company's communications manager Donald.
While all of this information is available if I want to spend an hour digging through my Gmail account, a new service called Xobni (inbox, spelled backward) brings all this information and more to the forefront. The tool analyzes your messages and contacts, making it easy to manage business and personal relationships. Tech blog ReadWriteWeb calls it x-ray vision for your inbox, which is the best way to describe how it works.
The company that creates the software just released its Gmail version in Beta (Outlook and BlackBerry products already exist). After you sign up and install the browser plug-in (Chrome and Firefox) a slender sidebar sits on the right side of your inbox. When I click on any e-mail I can see a graph presenting my relationship history with the sender (how often we exchange messages), my most recent e-mails with this contact, the person's most recent Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn updates and the circle of people in our e-mail network. There is also a picture of that contact if they've shared one on a social media site.
From this sidebar I can search for other contacts and update their information to keep it within easy reach. For example, I can search for my editor Michael Snider and add his phone number (if one wasn't listed in his social profile) or an alternate e-mail address. When I bring up Michael's name, I see his Facebook profile picture, so I have an immediate visual reference and I can quickly find the 13 people who are often included in our e-mail conversations. Without leaving my inbox, I can check out what he's up to based on his most recent Twitter or Facebook posts.
Software services such as Salesforce have made it easy for salespeople to manage relationships for the better part of the past decade. However, Xobni is the first tool that recognizes that one of the biggest and most important networks lives within the in-box. By providing context and personality to each one of your message contacts, it vastly improves the entire e-mail experience. Whether I discover on my relationship graph with my Mom that it's been a few days too long since I've e-mailed her or I find out from one of my client's tweets that he just had a baby, Xobni is a keeper.
You can request an invite to the Gmail version, or Android and iPhone apps on Xobni's site. There will be free and paid versions of these products available for everyone in the next couple of months.