We headed over to the fancy Soho Hotel in, er, Soho this week to have a chat with Jeff Bonforte, CEO of a promising start-up from Silicon Valley that has been on the back-burner but is due for bigger things.
Xobni is inbox backwards. If you’re not aware, it’s currently a search tool you can bung into Outlook. Not the most exciting thing on the surface but if you take a look and have a go yourself there’s some impressive stuff at hand. The algorithms the team have been working on from day one aggregate and intelligently index data within your inbox, pulling in all the information you could need. As with Google’s new inbox tech, it can tell which emails are going to be more important to you and rate them automatically. But Xobni’s been doing it for a while.
Microsoft was interested in buying out Xobni for a ton of dosh a couple of years ago. Arrington’s TechCrunch is famous for rumours, says Bonforte, some are accurate and some aren’t. We took that as a yes – but Xobni clearly thought there was more dough to be had by staying independent for a while. But from where we’re standing it’s looking like a serious asset. Not just for Microsoft, but for mobile.
And mobile’s what’s happening next. RIM is a partial investor in Xobni, along with Cisco. Both wield influence in enterprise but there is a strong consumer focus too. Xobni works on Blackberry right now and we took a look – it’s impressive. For example if you, like us and like Bonforte too, don’t rush to store numbers in your phone Xobni can find them for you. A profile for a contact you have will be automatically drawn up and if a phone number has been left in a signature or a previous email you’ll get that on the profile, along with any other information that has been willingly provided.
The cool thing is it’s totally opt in, in every sense. If you install Xobni the information that’s being aggregated is all stuff that has been willingly provided either by you or by your contacts. It’s private facing – the info that gets sent your way is for your use, rather than public facing tech like social media.
The analytics under the bonnet go so far as to being able to tell you how busy your day’s going to be. Bonforte compared it to people chatting about the weather. It can tell you whether today’s going to be sunny or a thunderstorm is going to hit you right in the face, based on data in your inbox and the level coming in in the morning.
So far the feedback on Outlook has been positive. However Bonforte told us that it’s expanding and we’re going to see Xobni integrated on “other email platforms.” Take that as you will. We repeatedly asked and were repeatedly brushed off with a smile when we asked about other phone platforms and mobile in general. We can reveal, being the body language experts that we are, that Xobni will definitely be on the way to Android and other platforms too. The official line was neither confirm nor deny from Bonforte but Terra Carmichael at Xobni said, when we asked about sneaking a peek at the Android version: “We are a ways off and there’s no sneak peak to look at right now. But rest assured we will be on other platforms soon.”
Integrated, and blindingly quick search on any platform for email should come as standard. When asking about the tablet market again we again got a standard neither confirm nor deny. But Xobni is chatting to Apple. The way the product works we’d be surprised if Xobni did not get a full buy-out either from Cisco or RIM to roll across their platforms.
It wants to work with all major players right now but is hesitant to develop for Nokia, Windows 7 or Bada. It is taking a wait and see approach but Bonforte tells us Windows 7 Phone isn’t up to much.
In terms of security Xobni tells us that there are better ways to farm data than through an exploit in its software. NASA isn’t worried, which has been using the software for a while now.
We’d be very surprised if someone doesn’t snap up Xobni, quick. It’s going to shine in the mobile space and integration could seriously fix the clumsy way email is handled. Some people, eager beaver excitable geeks in particular, love to shout about old tech being dead. Email isn’t dead – it’s one of the most useful forms of communication, but it hasn’t been effectively rehashed or updated for about 20 years now. Keep at least one eye open for an Android version, and eventually Apple, too.