We’ve always been fans of Xobni, but can’t help feeling that the original form was the best: Xobni for Outlook when it launched in 2008 was absolutely steaming, bringing search results that Outlook itself couldn’t muster. Search now is better and (for this reviewer at least) moving to Mac meant the end of Xobni in with desktop emails until Xobni for Gmail landed.

For those that don’t know, Xobni is essentially a self-compiling contacts database. It scours your emails, lifting out the details of those people you communicate with so you have a list of working contacts compiled effortlessly, rather than having to manually add people to a conventional contact list or address book.

Xobni’s service mostly works in tandem with whatever platform you are on (BlackBerry and Outlook so far, Android and iPhone to come) although recent changes make Xobni’s scoured results exportable, so you can import them into your address book - but you’d have to be a Xobni Pro subscriber and that will set you back $7.99 a month. Sitting behind Xobni is Xobni Cloud, which is essentially a cloud server that handles the data it mines.

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If you have a Xobni Pro subscription and you are using Xobni on other platforms, you should be able to access all your Xobni data across platforms through Xobni Cloud. We were part of the private alpha testing for Xobni for Gmail (which is now in beta) so we’ve had a little time to play with it.

Xobni for Gmail, as the name suggests, is an add-in/extension for your Gmail webmail account. It will only really be useful for those who use Gmail in a browser, rather than through an email client. If you like to keep everything running in Chrome or Firefox tabs rather than in separate applications, then perhaps Xobni for Gmail is for you and it may well appeal to those mobile workers with a lightweight software install.

After adding your account details, you’ll find that Xobni for Gmail sits in a sidebar down the edge of your Gmail page. We added two accounts, a private Gmail and Google Apps account. You can then add social networking accounts - LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter - which if nothing else gives Xobni somewhere to draw images from.

Xobni for Gmail does two things: it builds your searchable list and compiles some stats. Arriving in Gmail it basically offers you a search bar and your top three contacts. Exactly what parameters it uses to arrive at these top contacts we’re not sure, as the three presented to us weren’t actually our top contacts, although this was alpha build, so we won’t draw too many conclusions from that.

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Finally at the bottom of the bar you’ll find the number of contacts in your Xobni address book - ours read 437, so we’re guessing that there is a limited history to Xobni as we experienced it, as it only seemed to contain those people we’d contacted since signing up on 9 March. 

However, start typing into the search bar and you’ll get results. One of the interesting things is that Xobni knows where and how a person appeared, so it will detail that person x first appeared in an email from person y on 10 March and everything falls into place - you know who that person is and why they are relevant.

Clicking on an individual will bring up their scoured details. Xobni obviously didn’t just import our Google address books, as some family contacts didn’t appear, or their information wasn’t as complete as our Google Contacts. You’ll be presented with four tabs for each person: Relationship History, Recent Emails, a web link with their connected account updates, and finally their contact group, which lets you see other people connected to that contact. These tabs were a little slow to move through.

The social networking tab will deliver a snapshot of recent updates from that person, but given the limited size of the Xobni bar, you’ll glance and move on. Once you’ve found your contact, you can click on their email address to compose an email in Gmail as you normally would. Xobni then offers up your list of other contacts so you can add other recipients - it’s fast and easy to use.

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We mentioned earlier that we’d linked two accounts into Xobni. Searching will return results from both accounts, so if you receive an email in one account you want to reply to in another, then it’s as easy as clicking the email address. What it won’t do, however, is let you view emails in a different account: you can only view the emails in the account you’re actually signed-in to. We also found that the number of contacts across the two accounts was different.

The big difference between Xobni and Gmail searches is that Xobni is person focused. Searching for Canon returned no results in Xobni for the “from 9 March” timeframe it seemed to cover, but searching in Gmail returned 12 emails pertaining to Canon - in this case discussions about sourcing review stock and commissioning reviewers. From Xobni’s point of view, none of this happened unless you search for the people involved in the conversations.

Similarly, a search for Nikon in both Xobni and Gmail returned one contact through Xobni (a Nikon PR contact, so spot on) but five emails from Gmail (again, discussions with a reviewer, in addition to the Nikon PR person). Depending on exactly what you are looking for, Xobni for Gmail might not cover everything surrounding a keyword search like it does in Outlook. 

Price when reviewed:
First Impressions

We’re just at the start of the Xobni for Gmail life and it looks to offer some interesting features for those who use Gmail in Firefox or Chrome, but we’re not entirely sold on it yet. Given time it may well settle into a much more useful resource.

We experienced Xobni for Gmail in alpha form, so there is still some way to go before it is finalised and we fully expect some of the data it presents to change.