Xobni for Outlook claims to make your email inbox and address book smarter by making it a breeze to search and discover all contacts – even those that aren’t in your address book. To achieve this, the company’s software automatically scans for all the people with whom you have ever exchanged emails, calls or even text messages. It also seeks to cross reference these contacts with their latest updates from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Users can download two main versions of Xobni for the desktop – one for Gmail and another for Microsoft Outlook. For our review, we focused on the paid Pro version for Outlook given its continued popularity with businesses. (You can compare the free and “Pro” versions of Xobni here.) I used it with Outlook 2010, though Xobni for Outlook also supports Outlook 2003 and 2007. The company has also produced various free clients for the key smartphone platforms out there such as Android, BlackBerry and the iPhone – more on that later.
Installation and setup
Installing Xobni is as simple as visiting the installation page to download the 6MB client. The download initiated automatically on my Chrome browser, and I was able to install Xobni within minutes. Given that the system is designed to sieve through multiple email accounts on your Outlook and offer a “single pane of glass” overview of all your contacts, an initial index is required.
The indexing process completed relatively quickly for me, though it did keep Outlook bogged while in progress; so don’t plan to install Xobni just before an important sales meeting. As regular indexing is required to keep Xobni’s database up-to-date, Xobni is configured by default to update its index every night when the computer is idle. You must remember to set this to “Never” if that’s not what you want.
Xobni essentially mines your email repository to present a wealth of information on a panel docked to the right side of Outlook. The application generates all past correspondences for each contact, as well as a list of file attachments, shared URL links and appointments. In addition, you can view lots of statistical information under Xobni Statistics and Xobni Analytics. This data reveals facts you may find arcane or useful, depending on your job role, such as identifying contacts you correspond the most with or the times these contacts are most likely to send you an email.
With the typical worker inundated with an endless flow of email, Xobni makes it extremely intuitive to dive into past email threads to quickly locate pertinent information. While Outlook is perfectly capable of doing the same by means of a quick search, Xobni does it faster by automatically displaying a comprehensive list of information for the currently viewed contact. An AutoSuggest feature will also attempt to complete a typed email address when drafting an email, generally making better suggestions than Outlook's default autocomplete feature.
Moreover, the ability to install “gadgets” helps further expand the capabilities of Xobni. For example, the default installation comes with basic social media gadgets such as Facebook, Twiter and LinkedIn preinstalled. You can add additional ones such as Klout to check out a contact’s influence, Dropbox to share files, and a range of other free or paid-for Gadgets that can be found here.
Finally, users can also make use of Xobni Cloud to synchronize their contact data with the free smartphone clients, currently available for the BlackBerry, iOS and Android platforms. Since contacts are automatically updated across all devices when using the Xobni cloud, this allows employees to bring a “live” version of their CRM anywhere they go. This incredibly useful feature will help mobile workers put names to faces, or figure out email addresses or contact numbers without having to head back to the office.
Crashes and Hangs
In my tests, the Xobni plugin caused Outlook to become unresponsive fairly regularly upon installation. Aware that it could be related to the mammoth task of initially indexing my multiple mailboxes approximating to about 6GB of messages, I initiated and completed a manual indexing which improved matters considerably. However, the crashes only went away after I disabled Xobni from starting up. I also experienced problems with frequent freezing up of Xobni’s user interface. This could typically be coerced into refreshing by hiding the Xobni side panel and then enabling it again.
Considering that I tested Xobni on a fairly fast i5 laptop equipped with 6GB of RAM and a fast solid state disk (SSD) setup, the frequent freezes and crashes mean that I would not recommend Xobni for businesses that deal with a large number of emails.
There is no doubt that Xobni goes a long way in helping knowledge workers and businesses keep in sync with a large number of contacts and customers. The ability to tap into this information on a smartphone also means that sales staffers are able to quickly find and review requisite contact information while on the move.
Despite its extremely enticing capabilities though, my advice is to try the free version of Xobni first to ensure it works for you. Xobni’s instability with large mailboxes could be a big disadvantage, given the current trend toward large Exchange mailboxes.