Xobni is a plug-in, working with Microsoft Outlook and Gmail, that adds a number of truly practical functions, and some superfluous functions, too, all located on one convenient, collapsible, expandable panel. Xobni is contact-centric, in that it displays information and tools specific to the sender of whatever email is currently selected. So, when I click on an email from Jared, his name, picture, and basic contact information become the Xobni panel header, and all the information and action options below it pertain to Jared.
When I began looking into Xobni, I found that a couple reviews (like this one and this one) charge it with being slow, and slowing Outlook, significantly, at times. Although it offers more than time-savings, Xobni is more of a convenience than a necessity, so it would be hard to warrant using the program if such accusations were true. But, Xobni works very quickly for me, and I’ve noticed no change in Outlook’s speed. But, I might just be blessed with an awesome computer and an IT guy who takes very good care of us. So, I’ve looked periodically at Xobni mentions on Twitter, and I haven’t seen many complaints; but, there’s always the possibility that such tweets happened to be fairly well buried each time I checked. Installing Xobni is as straightforward as installations go, sign up takes just moments, and the basic (yet quite comprehensive) product is free. So, it may be worth a trial on your own machine to settle any doubts. (Xobni Pro is available for $7.99 monthly or for $47.95 yearly, which is a nice 50% savings. The product comparison is available here; I didn’t see any reason to upgrade to Pro.)
If your system made it over the speed hurdle, you’ll find a number of tools available on your Xobni panel. Directly under the contact information, there is a relatively small area that will display one of six utilities, any of which will appear at the click of its corresponding button: Statistics, Actions, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Gadgets.
Curious who emails me more than anyone else? I didn’t think so; but, in any event, it’s Jared. How do I know that? Xobni ranks your contacts based on email volume. That’s useful in situations where someone asks you who you correspond over email with most frequently. And that’s probably about it. The other statistics are similarly impractical (like, a graph displaying volume of emails by time of day?).
Xobni Actions, however, are useful, though there are only three: Update Outlook Contact (handy), Email (no more handy than clicking “Reply” or “New”, really), and Schedule Time. The Schedule Time feature is brilliant. When clicked, this option opens an email, with default language to the effect of “Here is my availability over the next few days:”, and then it reads your calendar (!!) and includes any open time on weekdays, between the hours of 8am and 6pm. Even if you want to change the language and tweak your availability, this is a great time-saving starting point. Every time I’ve tested it, it works.
The buttons linking to LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook do what you probably expect them to do. And then, there are, currently, somewhere between 15 and 20 gadgets to choose from; most are free, a couple run the whopping yearly fee of $9.99. One of the more exciting gadgets: Evernote (but, not Scrible).
The larger portion of the Xobni panel is dominated by my favorite part: a listing of any email conversations with the displayed contact. I, like most, if not all, people, keep my Outlook inbox arranged by date, which isn’t ideal when browsing for an email from a specific person. Although switching to arranging by sender involves little more than a mouse-click, I don’t like doing it; it feels inconvenient, or just slightly more time-consuming than I feel it should be. I might be the only one who thinks that way, but, if I am, then it seems Xobni was designed just for me. Having the inbox arranged by date, while having the Xobni panel simultaneously visible and arranged by contact, has true time-saving potential. This area also displays a listing of files exchanged with the displayed contact. I had no idea how convenient that would prove to be. But, apparently, I often find myself wanting to refer quickly to something someone, most likely Jared, sent as an attachment, and that little Xobni section is the first location where I think to look for it, and it is often the most easily accessed.
I also added Xobni to my Gmail account, which works almost exactly the same, and is equally as effective, and works quickly on my awful laptop at home, too.
Finally, I give Xobni extra points for the stunning chocolate lab included in the rotating header on its about page. Well-done. If only Jared weren’t allergic, Rodney and I could bring our labs into LOMAP and put pictures of them on our website. Maybe it’s for the best though; my dogs aren’t quite as sophisticated-looking as the one on Xobni’s page.