Building the next Xobni

  xobniXobni 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.

The Tools

 Visual Studio Tools for Office

Additional Reading

 

  • Matt Brezina

    Very thoughtful post. I appreciate the time you put into your analysis. I'm also happy to have you as a Xobni user.<br />
    <br />
    Best,<br />
    Matt Brezina<br />
    Co-founder, Xobni

  • http://www.xobni.com Matt Brezina

    Very thoughtful post. I appreciate the time you put into your analysis. I’m also happy to have you as a Xobni user.

    Best,
    Matt Brezina
    Co-founder, Xobni

  • bacarli

    I agree, good post! xobni aint bad! <a href="http://www.outlooktrackit.com&quot; target="_blank">Outlook Track-It</a> has been a life saver too. downloads a small toolbar to outlook that reminds you and/or the recipient to follow up to the email. definitely need this too.

  • bacarli

    I agree, good post! xobni aint bad! Outlook Track-It has been a life saver too. downloads a small toolbar to outlook that reminds you and/or the recipient to follow up to the email. definitely need this too.

  • Rob

    Bacarli, I've been using Outlook Track-It for Outlook 2007 and I agree, it's great. You can flag all important emails to remind you to reply. It's like having a personal assistant. Great plugin recommendation!

  • Rob

    Bacarli, I've been using Outlook Track-It for Outlook 2007 and I agree, it's great. You can flag all important emails to remind you to reply. It's like having a personal assistant. Great plugin recommendation!

  • Max

    You aren't correct about the CustomTaskPane, although it certainly can be used in Outlook 2007. What Xobni is doing involves Win32 hacks to get the window into Outlook. A far more difficult operation, but doable (notice Xobni works in 2003 which does not have CustomTaskPane).

  • Max

    You aren't correct about the CustomTaskPane, although it certainly can be used in Outlook 2007.

    What Xobni is doing involves Win32 hacks to get the window into Outlook. A far more difficult operation, but doable (notice Xobni works in 2003 which does not have CustomTaskPane).

  • Sean

    Hi Max, any thoughts on how one might actually do the Win32 hacks? I'd love to be able to add a CustomTaskPane to Outlook 2003…

  • Sean

    Hi Max, any thoughts on how one might actually do the Win32 hacks? I'd love to be able to add a CustomTaskPane to Outlook 2003…