Monday, January 21, 2008

Celebrating User Happiness

Matt, Skyler, and Bryan compiled some user quotes from our feedback emails. Check out "Celebrating User Happiness" on the Xobni blog.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Three Clever Xobni Features (3/3): Prefilling Invites

This is installment 3 of 3 blog entries about features in Xobni where I discuss well-implemented, clever ideas. None of these are Xobni-specific – you should be able to port these ideas to any web or desktop app.

  1. Are You Happy? (1/3)
  2. As-You-Yype Search (2/3)

On January 9th, we started allowing our existing users to invite their friends to Xobni. If they have invites to send, this is what appears in the sidebar:

Clicking on the box brings up this window:

The dialog shows a list of your top contacts who use Outlook, which we identify by looking at headers of emails you received from them. These people are exactly the audience for Xobni!

This feature is an instance of smart defaults, not just sensible defaults. We take the vast amount of data in your email repository and do something smart with it. (The beauty is that the core piece of this functionality was written in one day with our powerful email data framework.) That's exactly what Xobni is about.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Car Commercial Hotspot

One of the fun things about Xobni having a downtown office is that almost every other week, I run into a scene of a car commercial being shot. While New York gets all the movies, San Francisco seems to be a hotspot for shooting those "car driving through a sea of highrises" scenes.

Today, on the way to work, i was rocking my iPod headphones on Kearny Street and was stopped by a big guy yelling at me to stop!!! right!!! there!!!. Turns out they were shooting a Toyota Corolla commercial.

The new Toyota Corolla, by the way, looks just like the old Toyota Corolla. I kind of wish they were shooting more sports cars commercials these days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Xobni Makes a Splash

Below are some reactions to last week's launch of our invite system that lets you invite your friends to Xobni.

ReadWriteWeb: Xobni: Social Network in Your Inbox:
"Xobni's brilliance is in providing you with a true social network filled with information that can help you stay productive and get things done. [...] This makes Xobni not just useful, but one of those, "how did I ever live without it" kind of things."

TechCrunch: Xobni: The Super Plugin for Outlook
"Being the only guy with Outlook in the office, it’s been a personal favorite of mine. Xobni’s sidebar has improved Outlook for me by offering faster search, and automatic organization of my email and contacts. Their search function alone has saved me time by just being faster and more comprehensive than Outlook’s native search."

Lifehacker: Supercharge Outlook with Xobni
"Freeware Microsoft Outlook plug-in Xobni (that's inbox backwards) adds a handful of killer features to its new Outlook sidebar. [...] Seeing as Xobni has successfully made Outlook appear exciting (which is no easy feat), this freeware, Windows-only plug-in looks like a winner."


"[...] after a few minutes of toying with it, I have the feeling I won’t be able to work without it!"

Daily Cup of Geek: Inbox Spelled Backwards and How It Is Taking Email Forward

"Xobni is that 'something better' I’ve been dying for when it comes to email."

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Weekend out of Focus

Squeezed between two intense work weeks: A short weekend in Tahoe!

We went to Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe.

It was Adam's first time on a board. He did well, thanks in part to snowboard lessons from M.

With all the adrenaline from quickly gliding downhill, we almost completely forgot for a moment about making your email a happier place. No worries: We're back in focus now.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Three Clever Xobni Features (2/3): As-you-type Search

This is installment 2 of 3 blog entries about features in Xobni where I discuss well-implemented, clever ideas. None of these are Xobni-specific – you should be able to port these ideas to any web or desktop app.

Previously: Three Clever Xobni Features (1/3): Are you Happy?

Traditionally, you type in the query, hit Enter, and get the results. In Xobni, you start typing your query and we start showing you results as-you-type.

Outlook 2007 has a similar feature: When you type and pause for a bit, it starts a search in the background. But it's the same operation at the same speeds as their normal search. In contrast, our search indexes and data files are optimized for incremental search: We search for prefixes, not full words. This makes us much faster.

The next installment of this series appears on Monday, January 14. Subscribe to my RSS feed to get updates.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Launching Xobni Invites

Today we're launching Gmail-Style invites in Xobni.

If you have Xobni installed, you can send invites to your friends from within the application.

Read the coverage on TechCrunch, GigaOm, and our very own Xobni blog.

This starts an exciting new phase for Xobni where we're become available to more and more users. We're spreading email happiness. If you have Xobni installed, don't forget to invite your friends!

Update: Lifehacker: Supercharge Outlook with Xobni

Update 2: MIT Technology Review:: Yahoo's Plan for a Smarter In-Box : "Yahoo isn't alone in its desire to reshape e-mail."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Yahoo gets Inbox 2.0

I'm very happy about how much attention the mail client experience has been getting lately. Even the big players are addressing people's email pains and building Inbox 2.0. From coverage of Yahoo's CES annoucement today:

Reminding his audience that what he was about to show them was a concept, not a launch, he began his presentation of what could be termed "Inbox 2.0" – a smarter, more intuitive and social version of Yahoo's existing webmail that can understand and interpret all of the interactions that users have across their various networks and devices.


By culling together and analyzing all of a user's relationships (who's in whose network on MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.) the smarter inbox that Yang envisions could prioritize a user's contacts, placing at the top the ones whose social graphs are most similar.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Three Clever Xobni Features (1/3): "Are you Happy?"

This is installment 1 of 3 blog entries about features in Xobni where I discuss well-implemented, clever ideas. None of these are Xobni-specific – you should be able to port these ideas to any web or desktop app.

We're religious about user feedback at Xobni. We get dozens of emails every day and read every single one. If you uninstall us, we ask for comments around why you uninstalled and how we could improve. We've built tools to collect and summarize this data.

But most users aren't vocal about their needs. The average happy user is unlikely to email with small problems she might be seeing. We want their feedback, but can't just pop up a window with a survey every time you use the software.

That's why we built Are you Happy?: Instead of a popup, we add a little box on the bottom of the sidebar every couple of weeks and ask: "Are you happy?" There are two buttons, Yes and No, and an optional comment field.

This is the most lightweight method of collecting user feedback. Note that:
  1. We're not popping up an annoying window.
  2. We ask a simple question.
  3. There are only two options – "yes" and "no" - and no Send button.

If we introduce unpopular features or bugs, we know within a few days. This feature was inspired by a similar mechanism in the early days of Caribou.

Currently, 90% of our users answer "Yes".

The next installment of this series appears on Thursday, January 10. Subscribe to my RSS feed to get updates.

Economist Report on Migration

The Economist has a special report on migration this week. As someone who has uprooted his life three times to move to a different country, this is a topic close to my heart.
"The number of migrants in the world today, both legal and illegal, is thought to total perhaps 200m (though many of the figures, even those used by governments, are at best educated guesses). That sounds a lot, but it adds up to only 3% of the world's population, so there is great potential for growth."

I would have thought this number to be much higher: Far more than 3% of my friends now life in a different country than they were born in. However, it turns out my sample is skewed:

Switzerland has the second-highest foreign-born population percentage in the world. Similarly, San Francisco is a destination for many born outside the US.

Another interesting map from this issue:

While this map just a qualitative view, it seems like the cliche of the rich Western states is still alive. Count the directions of arrows: East to West: 12, vs. West to East: 6. Similarly, South to North: 10 vs. North to South: 3.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

My Wishlist for the iPhone

After a month of using the iPhone, I'm surprised about how well it's working for me. While everyone is waiting for V2, it's already pretty darn good. I have only four requests:
  1. Ctrl-F in Safari: I want to be able to search inside a page that's displaying in Safari
  2. Copy-paste: Emails into notes, contact info into emails, Safari into email, Safari into notes, and vice versa. (I've heard rumors this will actually be in a software update soon)
  3. Emil search: Even if it only searches the last 50 received emails.
  4. Headphone jack: Make it fit other headphones with thicker connectors.

I'm looking forward to a bright future where one day there might be Xobni for iPhone. A mobile application may be even more useful than the desktop one. Imagine you're on the go and can use Xobni's super-fast email search, and people profiles.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2007: The Year in Numbers

New Year's is the time to revisit and review. Let's do it in a quantitative fashion.

  • Countries visited: 6
  • Miles flown: 63'901 (102241 km)

  • My top 5 ranked contacts: Adam, Matt, Bryan, Skyler, Greg
  • Average reply time to emails: 59 mins
  • Time of day when I sent most emails: 3 pm to 5 pm

Career department:
  • Number of jobs held: 2 (at Google and at Xobni)
  • Value of equity that would have vested if I hadn't left Google: $22'474 (there's no upside at big companies)

  • Number of mentions of Xobni in Wall Street Journal: 1
  • Number of mentions of Xobni in Valleywag: 3

Work / life balance:
  • Number of meals cooked for myself in 2006: ~80
  • Number of meals I cooked for myself in 2007: ~5
  • Nights at bars chatting up girls with Adam: ~5
  • Nights at xobni cranking out code with Adam: ~50

  • Days snowboarding: 3
  • Money spent on gym memberships, sports gear, and personal training: $2'954

Giving back:
  • Number of letters I received from my school, ETH Zurich: 3
  • Number of letters I received from ETH Zurich asking for money: 0 (I'd
    be happy to give, but you guys have to ask)

From these numbers, it would be easy to think that this year was all about work. It was. At an early stage startup, you spend your days and nights cranking on code. I think that next year will see a better work-life balance, but I will probably still be working harder than ever before.

This year was a year of upheaval; I left the established Google for a baby startup, and moved to a different country. Xobni is now at an exciting point where we're building out the userbase and getting ready to strip away both the "private" and the "beta" from "private beta". I expect that we'll see a lot of success: Email search and navigation is still in its infancy.

Let's review my 2007 New Year's Resolutions: I've tried to keep in shape throughout the year, with limited success in the early days of Xobni, but have since found a great gym and a trainer: Check. Another resolution for this past year is to have more focus and do only one thing at a time. A startup forces you to do that: Check. Launch stuff at Google? Didn't happen.

My resolutions for 2008? Make Xobni a big success. Spend some time Asia (where I have never been before). Talk less about myself on my blog.