Building the next Xobni
Xobni is pretty gosh darn cool, it makes Outlook better.
Most new programs you use, ask you to enter more information for tracking purposes. Applications like Xobni are the way of the future my friends! I can’t believe more people are not jumping all over ideas like this. Instead of asking users to track more information, do more work, and try and convince them to enter more data up front in order to provide them with new features and reports, why not let them install an application, that analyzes the data, and then gives you a ton of cool features! – Miquel Carrasco
Adam Smith’s blog that summarizes a lot of the experience over the past 2+ years building and shipping Xobni. His post, “User Bases, Pricing, Revenue and the Value of Users”, is a really solid way to think about how to build a $100 millon company. The post demonstrates the need to deliver value to a group of users (at the posting: “Outlook has 500M users, Skype has 200M users, Thunderbird has 8M users”). Adam walks through some hypothetical numbers to build a $300M company, it is dependent on a freemium model with 1% conversion and a $10/month reoccuring subscription revenue. It’s an interesting model for entrepreneurs and clearly dependent on getting access to a significantly large user base.
Xobni, TinEye, Photosynth all extra extra information from existing data.
The real genius behind Xobni is that they realized that they can give users more information, and allow users to interact in whole new ways with their email, without asking them to track any more information at all! – Miquel Carrasco
Xobni extracts relationships about contacts, your email patterns and other data sources on the web to improve your mail expereience. TinEye uses pixel and region matching to improve image search. Photosynth analyzes collections of photographs and extracts a three-dimensional model and the relationships between light points in each image. The trick is in figuring out “Why do people want what you’re building?”.
How do you build an application like Xobni?
Xobni is an Office for Business Application (OBA). OBA is a way to build applications that use Office apps context for your application. Why use Office for context? There are over 400 million Office users worldwide. There are a large number of enterprise and corporate clients that access Exchange using Outlook. If you’re interested in building an application that improves email and has a significantly large user base to build the necessary revenue model, Outlook and other Office applications are a good starting point. It is a defined market with problems and opportunities for improvement.
Xobni is an add-in for Microsoft Outlook. It uses a set of custom file system, email analytics, SQLite and custom windows elements. (It’s possible to get SQLite up and running on .NET in 3 minutes). Xobni UI is rendered in a custom task pane in the Outlook client. The application indexes your mail and links to web services (LinkedIn and Facebook). Adding a Custom Task Pane to Outlook is probably the easiest part of building an add-in like Xobni. But it is the starting point for the display and user interaction through Xobni. The starting point is to create a Custom Task Pane and then to access the Object Model to begin indexing and analysis.
But why rebuild Xobni?
Don’t! It’s a better plan to start investigating how to use a customized Office UX for a web application. Email Prioritizer is a Outlook 2007 add-in to help manage email overload. There are a lot of example applications on OBA Central that look like they use Office apps as a browser replacement, which is the wrong way to build a great application. The goal is to enrich the users access to information by integrating web services and additional interpreted data in the user experience, not replace a web form. Document management and financial data apps that integrate with Word and Excel are probably easier to visualize. But I’d love to see an MS Project integration with Basecamp, Devshop, or Midori (not the other Midori). It’s a great way to start building enterprise RIAs.
- Creating an Outlook Add-in Project
- Custom Task Panes
- Create an Outlook 2007 Form Region using VSTO 2008
- Building OBA using VSTO 3.0
- Your First Outlook Add-in
- Your Second Outlook Add-in
- Developing Office Business Apps with Visual Studio 2008
- Outlook 2007 Form Regions Using VSTO 3.0