Sunday, March 23, 2008

Arrington on Email Overload

Michael Arrington has a post about email overload on TechCrunch today. A lot of people feel overwhelmed with email: Too many emails, from too many sources, coming in at a faster pace than what you can deal with.

I stumbled on this problem in 2004, while working on Gmail. It is a fascinating space, in which we're stuck in a dilemma of email clients that haven't changed in 15 years and weren't designed to do what they're dealing with today. On the other hand, there is an abundance of academic work trying to address the problem: Just read "How Researchers are Reinventing the Email Client" or my thesis on organizing email.

Even with Xobni, we're only scratching the just the surface of this problem, and there is still so much opportunity out there to improve the email experience for users. It's a huge market with big, established players, ripe for a revolution. Thanks, Arrington, for keeping this on everyone's minds.

Update: An interesting comment from the man himself (#74): "I didn’t quite write this post the way I intended to. There are lots of startups addressing the email problem, one of my favorites is Xobni. I’m thinking of something significantly more revolutionary than fixing email. Like a new way of communicating entirely."

The Cost of Switching Your Logo

When big companies change their logos, brochures have to be reprinted, signs changed, and trucks repainted.

About a week ago, Xobni switched to a new, lowercase logo. It eliminates the dash above the o: Since the Bill Gates demo, the short o has fallen out of favor. In addition, the new lowercase format allows us to mirror the logo on our homepage to make the "inbox backwards" connection obvious.

After Bryan created the new design and put it up on the website, I decided to switch our logo everywhere else. Original estimate: 1 hour.

I changed the logo in the product, our internal Wiki, the bug tracker, Nimda, and even ordered mousepads with the new design. Then, I figured out how to change our logo on Wikipedia, and even wrote an email to Crunchbase asking to change our logo. Total time taken: 3 hours! And I'm sure the old logo still lingers somewhere.

If this small change takes hours even for a startup like ours, I can see what corporations spend those millions of dollars on.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Microsoft's Office Transformation

John K. Waters from Redmond Developer News - a magazine devoted to developing on the Windows platform - wrote an article on how companies are starting to use Office as an extendable platform. Interesting stuff.

The article also has some quotes by me where I talk about Xobni, our experience with Outlook and our plans beyond it. Read it here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Two Views on Europe

I'm on a short trip to Europe to take care of some things. It's nice here: Well-architected buildings line pretty streets with cozy cafes and without homeless people.

But is it a good place for entrepreneurs? Two friends have sent me two articles with vastly different viewpoints.

The first comes from Foreign Policy: "Europe's Phiosophy of Failure". It points out the anti-capitalist attitudes found in Germany's and France's school textbooks. The author, Stefan Theil, claims that these textbooks portray capitalism as brutal, economic growth as a health hazard, and entrepreneurs as money-grabbing dictators. Having gone to high school in Germany myself, I didn't find this to be true. But times and textbooks may have changed since the pro-American 1990s.

The other article comes from BusinessWeek: "Europe's Crop of Billion-Dollar Babies". It features Giuseppe Zocco, co-founder of my favorite European VC firm, Index Ventures. Zocco talks about how "there are a lot of European companies founded in the past 5 to 10 years that can, with the right support, become billion-dollar companies." Can Europe build bigger companies than Silicon Valley with investors that have a longer time horizon? We shall see.

If you liked this, read: Why Startups don't Condense in Europe.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Does your Outlook speak a Foreign Language?

If you have a non-English edition of Microsoft Outlook, I need your help!

Here at Xobni, some of our algorithms and heuristics rely on Outlook speaking English. Unfortunately for our software, but fortunately for us, a very significant percentage of our users work with non-English versions of Outlook.

Since our Pirate Testing Lab and our impressive farm of happy virtual machines contains only English-language Outlook installs, I need your help.

If you have a non-English edition of Outlook, please leave a comment with the following:
  • Your country, the language, and version (2003/2007) of your Microsoft Outlook
  • The names that your edition of Outlook uses for:
    1. Inbox
    2. Outbox
    3. Sent Items
    4. Deleted Items
    5. Drafts
    6. Junk E-Mail
    7. RSS Feeds
    8. Search Folders
    9. Calendar
  • The prefix that your Outlook adds to the subject on an email you reply to. For example, in English this is "Re:". In German this is "Aw:". In Italian, this is "R:"
  • The prefix for "Reply All". In English this is "RE:"
  • The prefix for "Forward". In English this is "FW:"
  • (Extra credit): The prefixes Outlook uses when someone accepts or declines your appointment, or sets attendance to tentative. In English, this is "Accepted:", "Declined:" and "Tentative:"

Thanks so much – your help is greatly appreciated!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Xobni Blog: Behind the Scenes

Matt wrote this post on the Xobni blog that talks about the internal tools we use behind the scenes.

Visitors to Xobni are often surprised how much data analysis we do in the background. We're trying to be smart not just with the software we ship to users, but also the software we use internally.

Nimda and LunchBotr are just two examples of our toolset - upcoming episodes will hopefully talk about the other tools we use every day.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pictures of Silicon Valley

I got a present! It's Gabriele Basilico's Silicon Valley 07, which accompanies an exhibition that is currently on display at the SF MOMA.

These photographs were all taken during Basilico's short visit to Silicon Valley last year. They show this region without pretense: In San Francisco, he took pictures of pretty hills with the Golden Gate in the background, but also of sketchier parts, used car dealerships, and deteriorating warehouses. In Silicon Valley, he photographs the sleek headquarters of Oracle and Sun, the villas of Palo Alto, and the cookie-cutter clone houses and McMansions.

For someone who lives here, everything seems very familiar: The images from highway 101, the annoying Verizon billboards, the skyline of San Francisco.

The book starts with a panorama on which you can see my bedroom window, and page 118 pictures the apartment complex where I used to live in Mountain View. That's almost a bit close to home.