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The Xobni breakthrough


Occasionally, a company will come along with a product that shows us the way forward and prepares a market for a change that is coming. I think Xobni is one of those companies.

Why? Because our social interactions on e-mail, social networks, twitter, IM, and mobile phones are rich with data that has yet to be effectively mined and leveraged. Our PST files (those massive files Outlook creates on our hard drives) are huge highly personalized databases that contain tons of value – if only the algorithms existed to read them and make sense of them in ways that help us. Think about the richness of the data that exists in e-mails: contacts, attachments, meetings, and simple text – all of them time-stamped and many of them already grouped into conversations… LinkedIn’s toolbar is a great tool because (like Xobni) it collects data from multiple databases and uses it to enrich both of them…but it leverages only contacts, not content or context.

Google desktop search goes only part of the way to helping us make sense of e-mail. As with web search, the company’s relevancy algorithms provide a long list of results for each query. They don’t really do anything to understand relationships between people or objects. Google’s desktop search was, in fact, an essential tool for me, until I discovered Windows Desktop Search which is just a much faster, more efficient tool. It’s based on a product called LookOut, which Microsoft bought in 2004. Windows Desktop Search comes built-in in Vista, but XP users need to download and install it.

But search doesn’t really solve the problem – because none of relevancy algorithms are smart enough to really leverage the information that exists in e-mail…and that is where Xobni comes in. Xobni is pretty quickly taking its place alongside Windows Desktop Search as an essential application for me. Xobni does quite a bit (just ask Bill Gates, Walt Mossberg, or Rafe Needleman), including:

  • detecting patterns within e-mail
  • detecting groups of contacts based on e-mail threads
  • floating relevant attachments to the surface
  • providing powerful search for contacts and e-mail
  • integrating user profile information for contacts from Facebook and LinkedIn
  • integrating with Skype

Xobni, however, is just scratching the surface. There’s a lot of data locked away in Outlook (not to mention webmail, social networks, and IM), and I think we’re just at the beginning of a wave of innovation that will start to convert all of this data into useful information. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here that is ripe for the picking…and a lot of room for very smart algorithmic work and UI innovation that I believe can be the basis for some great companies.

Wherever powerful algorithms can make a difference, you’re bound to see Israeli start-ups, and this space is no exception. Some of the more notable (public) ones in this space include:

  • Nogacom – which is revolutionizing enterprise search
  • Delver – which is mining social networks for useful patterns
  • HiveSight – which is mining social networks for market insight
  • TimeBridge – which is helping solve the personal scheduling nightmare
  • Sightix – which is providing some interesting social search visualization

If you are also working on this problem – I’d love to hear from you…