Xobni - what a waste of money

Xobni [Inbox spelt backwards] is a company that offers an outlook plugin that supposedly uncovers relationships from your inbox. With Bill Gates apparently as a fan it was perhaps inevitable that Microsoft would be trying to buy them and perhaps it was quicker than trying to replicate what they did.

However, having tried the add-in during beta, on a version of Outlook running on the family PC into which I downloaded my business email from our webmail server [I use a webmail client rather than Outlook and Xobni only works in Outlook], I confess I found it pointless. Looking at stats which ranked contacts by email volume exchanged or their "connections" based on who else was included on emails had no on-going value and hardly passed the curiosity test.

Unsurprisingly, the add-in also slowed Outlook down and consumed valuable screen space.

After persevering for 2 weeks, it simply got uninstalled and hasn't been missed.

I've found services like GTD Inbox, which is a gmail add-in for helping managing your inbox to be immensely more useful than Xobni was. Throw in a LinkedIn add-in for connecting and keeping tabs with your contacts and Xobni looks like a solution looking for a problem.

Could it be some Microsoft underling thinks that they will make the old boss happy by interpreting his admiration to mean they should spend over $20m on this "feature". It's also a sad reflection of Microsoft that they couldn't either internally innovate and create such "solutions", nor create a similar add-in themselves given the enormous resources at their disposal - or is it that internal bureaucracy means they can't develop anything cheaply?

Please excuse my sloppy spelling errors earlier, which I've corrected. Apparently, such errors undermine any opinion you may venture in the minds of the groupies that hangout in the Y Combinator hallways. To correct some of the misunderstandings and prejudices of other contributors to the Hacker News thread though
- I was testing the add-in using BUSINESS email and sadly have too many attachments on incoming emails from people who don't use online collaboration services.
- I've never tended to use an email inbox to store documents, preferring windows file folders instead. Hence the attachments get saved off on receipt. Personally I always found Outlook quite flaky as a file storage system and would also hate to rely on remembering who sent which document.
- I had to test Xobni on a family desktop as I've migrated away from Outlook for all my work activities and Xobni only works in Outlook. Why pay licence fees when you can use identical services online for free and access them from anywhere? Hence, I simply downloaded business emails onto the home machine to test over a couple of weeks.
- Google desktop search is what I use to find anything on a PC, albeit most of my docs get stored in the "cloud" these days. Hence, Xobni "search", which is restricted to Outlook content, was superfluous.
- As for the photo comments, sadly it's the face I was born with and the photo was taken by Ian Forrestor of BBC Backstage fame at the London BBC Backstage & Geek party in 2006. That my opinion is diminished coz you don't like my picture...........wow, tough crowd
- Oddly enough, I was writing as a past Xobni user and of my experience of the product - my comments had nothing to do with being an investor.
- I'm delighted that some people could derive use from this product. Evidently we have considerably different needs or have settled on alternate solutions.

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posted by John Wilson @ 5:46 PM Permanent Link newsvine reddit


At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally somebody calling it like it is. I always wasn't able to understand the hype behind Xobni -- their tag line itself is stupid, and what they are is a glorified Outlook add-in. But perhaps I need to rethink -- if they are able to sell themselves for over 20mil to Microsoft, they are perhaps atleast good at marketing.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I had this plugin installed for about 15 minutes. It sucks. The hype was because they're a y combinator company.

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. I had this plugin installed for about 15 minutes. It sucks. The hype was because they're a y combinator company.

At 12:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Microsoft should save their money. This thing is useless.

At 3:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you've got the flakiest blog around. The page takes forever to load because of all your "widgets" and your translator menu cuts into the post!

Clean this damn thing up so I can come back and read it.

As for Xobni, I've used the plugin and think it adds a great bit of value.

At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. Xobni is useless. I installed it, uninstalled it pretty quickly too. What user EVER asked for this? It's not a problem solved, its a problem invented!

Microsoft should save their money, or at LEAST give us a way to turn the useless thing off!

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too was amazed that Xobni generated so much interest. Those organizations that use Lotus Notes for email have a highly-programmable user-interface built right into the email client (not to mention the email is stored in a very flexible database with full-text search). It's a great pity that many organizations just can't be bothered to exploit the potential of the Notes client and often just serve up the default mail template to their users

At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Notes? Did you seriously suggest Notes? Seriously, Notes has so many fucking things wrong out of the box it should be an embarasement to IBM. I don't want to program the hell out of my mail client just to send email; frankly my time is way to valuable to purchase something that just might do what everybody else does out of the box after 40+ hours of customizations. I don't have to spend that much time getting gmail to work (free). gmail doesn't take hours & hours to syncronize (again cheaper)... (trust me I worked for IBM; sometimes notes syncronizations could take all night...) and that is just plain ridiculous in this day and age. I will not even go into the hundreds of bugs I discovered while working for them. IE my notes calendar could never correctly identify what time zone my events were in from other people; and notify me correctly adjusted for the time zone I was currently in. The user interface is a well used example of what not to do in "Usability" studies. Lotus is an abomination. Geta clue.

At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your review interesting.
I am using the plug-in for a couple of days now, in a very busy, e-mail driven corporate environment. It is the only place this tool probably justifies the trade-offs (large screen footprint, cpu/disk resourcers, learning curve etc).
For reference I have around 12GB of e-mail, with only 80MB in the exchange folders. This plug-in allows me to mine the archive in real-time on my work notebook, and that is very handy. It would be an overkill for my personal e-mail.

Microsoft will not put resources into such an add-on, because of the APOS support costs. They wouldn't mind having it in their court, though... like an insurance policy, in case this is the next thing. 20M is cheap for that, think what they put in Facebook already (and that is so....)

At 3:35 PM, Blogger John Wilson said...

To the last comment, I absolutely agree why Microsoft might be interested i.e. keeping it out of the hands of competitors and either burying it or having it in the cupboard just in case. Moreover, it quickly adds "features" until the next major Outlook release arrives. As you say, $20m is pocket change for them.

12gb of email is an astonishing file size and hence I can understand your need for better search capabilities. In addition to Xobni, you might want to look at the feasibility of using Google Desktop search on your work notebook. I am presuming that you can install this given you've been able to add Xobni within your corporate environment. This would extend your search to include Outlook and your windows files directories.

Certainly, I think Xobni could be also used in a corporate environment behind the scenes, in similar fashion to some other applications, to uncover who has relationships with other corporations and "targeted" individuals.

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Mermaldad said...

I found xobni useful in a corporate e-mail environment. The problem is that where I work, we get a really small amount of space on the exchange server, so e-mails have to be moved to archive files on the local disk. Outlook's search function will only search one mailbox at a time and is slooooow. xobni is much better, though it does eat a lot of screen space.

I agree that xobni rankings of my correspondents' activity are pretty useless, especially since I'm not sure if I understand what is being ranked.

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Rob said...

Hey I can recommend you another Outlook search tool! It is small, extremly fast and works with no problems!

Maybe you want to try the 14 days free version...as you see it is not for free, but I definitely think it is worth trying! :)


At 11:40 PM, Blogger bolman said...

Xobni is amazing. The usage stats are mere toys against its indexing capability. I have thousands of emails and find it most useful to answer the questions I ask myself a dozen times a day - "where is that file x person emailed me?", "what did x person say about topic y?", "when did I meet x person last?".

If you are a mega-user of Outlook, Xobni will eliminate 99% of your wasted time trawling through emails looking for answers.

If you a a home-only user of Outlook, xobni might not be as useful.

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got my xobni!

I don't even know how I got it. I hate programs like that: just piggy backing on some other programs install package

Thats why Ilike macs...


At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had some bad experience with Xobni as well. I agree with most of John's comments.

* The free version started masking all my regular email contacts (the default feature in outlook where you get the email ids when you type the first few chars). I had to uninstall xobni to get the old outlook feature back.

* Xobni slowed down my outlook on a 2GHz, 4GB RAM PC

* It looks like xobni requires to install plugins (outlook, browser etc) to see the data, which is a pain.

Glad to have uninstalled this product...

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well... I have heard a lot but I need to speak to your record. Xonbi is a tool that is quite valuable. The reasons you say it does not work are the exact reasons Xonbi does provide value to a person who receives more email, requests than are possible to reply to in an average day and still provide value to the company while communicating with real people via phone. The capability to (with two to three keystrokes) sort and combine phone numbers / groups of people that were cc'ed on emails, emails, attachments and other notes in one place adds significant value to one who has to produce value for a living. Your blog post on this subject is quite laughable and you should reconsider taking this post down and re-reviewing Xonbi for what it does in a world of avg emails coming in per day far exceeds 100. To mention Lotus is a joke in itself. The company made the switch 18 months ago from outlook to lotus. Ironicly... I was browsing the internet today to find a way to auto add contacts from an email to an address book and be able to enter their company info as part of adding to the address book. The features you evaluated relate to statistics / hype. If you never use it enough to understand the value.. .yes you will never comprehend the value.
Pull together 4 years of pst info at aprox 7-10 gig total and then say the same thing when someone asks where is the email trail on this subject.

Frankly its imbarrasing to think that you mention Lotus as a example of efficiency and then call out the marketing hype of Xonbi as the key features. This makes me reconsider the validity of your blog. Lotus notes, Ipads, flashy light blinky things that you choose to say are successful are only valuable to useful idiots. As for me ... I am still looking for tools to replace what Xobni and Outlook did to provide for personal efficiency / productivity.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger John Wilson said...

A brief response to the preceding commentator
1. This post is 4 years old and provided an opinion on the beta version at that time. I suspect you've a more recent experience.

2. Don't believe I ever mentioned Lotus or ipads or "flashy blinky lights". Some commentators may have done so.

3. Not sure why you felt the need to resort to personal abuse, just because you've had a better experience with the product than I did.

4. "one who has to produce value for a living". Odd, I thought most folks had to do that.


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