Archive for March, 2008

Facebook Introductions on the way?

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Facebook just released a feature that suggests people you may know, described well in this Inside Facebook post.  This feels like the biggest step Facebook has taken to get closer to the type of introduction functionality that is at the heart of LinkedIn and  going there seems like a very obvious next step for Facebook.

A quick rundown of the new functionality first. A sidebar entry on your homepage rotates through a couple of people who you share friends with like this:

and the see all page shows you lists of people who you share friends with.  Dyk_2
A lot of the people are just people who you share hyperconnected Facebook friends with (Jon Staenberg knows EVERYONE!).  But it’s also very interesting to see people who you share friends with in completely different social circles.  I’ve definitely had a few, WAIT A SEC, HOW DO THEY KNOW EACH OTHER?!? moments.

My experience browsing the lists is that about 25% of the people suggested are people I actually am friends or acquaintances with, but just haven’t added on Facebook.  About 50% are people I am familiar with, but don’t know personally.  And the remaining quarter are people I don’t know at all.  Basically, a perfect platform from which to launch LinkedIn-style introductions.

I’ve written about contact segmentation in social networking in the past.  This is something that is going to be more important in social networks as boundaries of friends, business colleagues, and online acquaintances start to blur.  Facebook is giving a nod to that with their Privacy Changes and Friend Lists.  But as Facebook and other networks break down the tenuous walls around friends and contacts, having context about the nature of these relationships is going to be more important, and that’s something we’ve been working on.  The ClearContext Contact Exporter lets you extract and export sets of contacts from groups of Outlook folders, allowing you to export everyone you’ve invited to parties onto Facebook or groups like your investment contacts into LinkedIn.  But now that the roles of these social networks are overlapping more, it’s more likely to have both types of contacts in both places, so having richer information about the strength and nature of your relationships known by those sites will become more important – and analyzing email interactions is a good way to figure that out.  In our upcoming ClearContext release we’ve already added more contact-focused interactions directly into messaging workflow, allowing you to work with groups of contacts related to specific contexts or projects.  As we continue to be overwhelmed by information and and ever-increasing number of ways to exchange that information and interact with each other, it’s a really exciting time to be working on intelligent solutions to help people survive in this new era of hyperconnected communications.

Update:  One of the most hyperconnected folks around, the lovely Adriana Gascoigne, just wrote about how much she loves Facebook for virtual networking.   She’s not alone on that by any means, and that is exactly why I think we’ll be seeing functionality like Facebook Introductions soon.

Jeremiah Owyang – Email Consumes Us

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

One of the savviest new media/Web 2.0/social media/etc blogger/analyst/commentators out there, Jeremiah Owyang, just wrote a great post on how Email Consumes Us.   This comes on the heels of Michael Arrington’s post on email troubles that I just wrote about.

As I’ve been writing about for a while, the very nature of email itself is changing.  Two major things have changed about email in the past few years.  The volume (duh, more!) and the nature (it’s no longer just individual messages, it’s projects and tasks and collaboration).

Yet email clients are still fundamentally designed to process messages one by one and treat them as independent units of data.  That approach just doesn’t scale and doesn’t reflect the type of connected and context-rich information contained within email.

Somewhat ironically, web-based solutions are by and large using email as the standard notification hub, actually increasing the requirement for more intelligent and sophisticated email processing.  Next generation solutions for email are going to have to be much smarter about handling email intelligently and in much bigger chunks than just one message at a time.

Email is out of control.  We hear you, and we’re working on it very hard!  Many thousands of business email users are already using ClearContext to stay on top of their email and actually get their work done, but we’re just getting started.  I expect you’ll see a lot of other players entering the space as well, because this problem isn’t going away anytime soon.  The level of pain people feel with email is opening the door to a whole new generation of solutions, and we intend to be right at the forefront of this email revolution.

Email etiquette: Thanks

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I grew up being taught to say please and thank you as just a matter of simple courtesy for actions large and small.  But more and more, I find this to be at odds w/ polite and efficient email practices.  A quick scan finds a number of other people with similar opinions:

Is your e-mail necessary, important or useful? If not, don’t send
it. That includes unnecessary replies, such as “Okay, thanks,” or “Take
it easy.” 

My personal view is that just saying thanks as a way of acknowledging
an email is pretty pointless. But expressing gratitude in the right
context is a necessary part of courtesy.

Don’t send e-mails
that simply say "Thanks."

and some strong opinions on both sides of the issue in response to Paul McNamara’s blog entry on the question Thanks or no thanks?

Now, there are many lengthy projects/exchanges or situations where people put in a lot of effort, and those cases merit an actual response expressing your gratitude.

But if the appropriate level of response to someone’s email is simply "Thanks" and nothing more, then I lean towards just not sending anything – and expressing your thanks by not popping up one more thing on their Blackberry or one more item in their inbox for them to delete.

So, if you’ve forwarded me an interesting article recently or answered some question with a quick helpful one-liner response and didn’t hear back – Thanks!

Hi, TechCrunch. I can solve your email problems.

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

A while back I wrote about my email and inbox thesis.  Today Michael Arrington posted about the 2,433 unread emails he has and the problems he has dealing with emails in general.  Well, we’ve already solved a lot of those problems with ClearContext IMS by automatically prioritizing emails for people as well as automating the process of processing and organizing all those emails.  In our upcoming release that is currently in the testing cycle, we go beyond emails, tasks, and appointments to also help people manage the contacts related to a project and all the documents that pass through their inbox.

I want to highlight a couple of specific points Michael makes:

"I scan the from and subject fields for high payoff messages." – NO, NO, NO!  Nobody with any volume can do that and stay on top of email.  By analyzing your email history and all sorts of contextual clues about incoming email, this is something that can be done automatically Prioritized_inbox
– and we do. 

"I currently have 2,433 unread emails in my inbox."
– You’re not alone, we hear this all the time.  But combining technology with an email management process, that’s a problem that can be solved.  Here’s what people are saying: "In 3 days, I had reduced my 600+ inbox (and all new emails received in those 3 days) to ZERO!"  "When I first installed the program I had exactly 688 messages in my
inbox! Now, I’ve neatly organized it into manageable topic folders
& threads."  "My inbox is down to 0 from a starting point of about 7,500." "…I have gone from having over 1 thousand old emails in my inbox… to
having just this mornings emails in there. I can’t tell you how
refreshing it feels."  That’s all without resorting to "email bankruptcy" or anything like that.

"If I knew what that solution was, I’d quit this blog and go do it."
We’re on the lookout for smart new team members!  Call me.

"Drop by my house and tell me all about it."OK, seeya soon.

We’ve started out with the biggest business communication medium and application – email and Outlook.  But there’s a whole world of messaging that our solutions apply to and we look forward to incorporating all of those information streams into our solutions.  When it comes to information overload, things are only going to get worse.  But we’re here to make them better.