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It’s shocking what you can learn from your own email inbox: You’re slow to reply to Mom, you’re losing touch with a close friend, and you and your spouse often discuss the same old topics. If only these revelations could be used to help you organize your inbox.
This week, I tested Cloze, a free Apple iOS app that prides itself on being an inbox-analyzing expert. Cloze uses an algorithm to study emails and other social-network interactions, then sorts messages according to who sent them, prioritizing those from people it thinks matter most to you.
I tested Cloze on an iPad, an iPhone and the Cloze website. (An Android app is planned for later this year.) Its people-focused concept is smart, and everyone wants a better way to manage inbox clutter. By incorporating social-network interactions, like those from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, Cloze makes sure messages from important people don’t slip through the cracks.
It’s a pleasure to use because of its minimalistic layout with a lot of white space, which never felt overwhelming—no matter how many new messages or posts I received.
Cloze will even rate the electronic relationships you have with people, depending on several factors. I had fun sorting through people to see my Cloze Score with them. Cloze scores six categories for each person: Dormancy, Frequency, Responsiveness, Privacy, Freshness and Balance. I learned my mother-in-law and I have a well-balanced relationship, with a Balance score of 82 out of 100. My husband and I only got a 41 in Freshness, which means we could stand to talk about different topics more often. Then again, Cloze can’t track the conversations he and I have in person every day. In some cases of friends who I talk with mostly on the phone, scores didn’t accurately represent relationships.
The different list options on an iPhone.
After a week, I found myself wanting to check Cloze several times daily. But it was hard to stop checking my more familiar email and social-network programs first. Once an email message is read on Cloze, it can be automatically marked as read in one’s real inbox, but Twitter and Facebook posts were often replicated in both places. Yahoo, Exchange, iCloud Mail and AOL email are supported by Cloze, but not POP email accounts, like Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail).
One of my favorite aspects of Cloze is how it made me feel in control of my correspondence with close friends and family. A group called Key People is created after Cloze finishes analyzing your inbox and social networks. In my case, this analysis took about two hours and included one Gmail inbox and my Facebook and Twitter accounts. My Key People list accurately represented 25 people who mean a lot to me, and I added others manually (it holds up to 100). Once this was set up, the number of unread messages appeared beside this list. Cloze’s aim is to help you get that number to zero.
To do that, I chose actions for each. These actions depend on the message: Email options include Reply, Reply All and Forward; a tweet includes Reply, Retweet, Favorite or Email the person who posted it. A clever tree branch icon appears with each message and can be tapped to see a fan-like display of actions.
Even if you don’t know what to do with a message, you can still do something: Each message has a small bookmark in its top right corner that, when tapped, displays options that include Now, Today, Tomorrow and Next Week. I really liked this aspect of Cloze because I’m often in a rush and can’t handle a message at the moment its sent, but I want a way of reminding myself to follow up.
An automatically generated list called Losing Touch points out long- or short-term relationships that have started to fade. For example, Cloze understands if someone is considered a long-term relationship even though you haven’t received inbound communication in about two to four weeks. Key People get sorted into Losing Touch faster than others and stay in the Losing Touch list for longer.
Other lists can quickly be manually created and friends can be added to them with a simple tap. This is helpful if you want to organize groups of people or all correspondence associated with one particular thing, like buying a new house.
Cloze is happy to share with you all sorts of tidbits it has about your social interactions. It will even give you tips in a side panel about what helps make good relationships, like “Relationships need depth, but they also need to evolve.” Some people, though, could understandably be creeped out by the thought of getting relationship advice from an algorithm.
If you’re hoping to improve a relationship with someone, you can set a Cloze Score goal for your relationship to move that person’s emails and social-network posts to a higher priority in the list where they’re displayed. It won’t automatically move them to Key People. On the other hand, if someone is too noisy, posting lots of tweets and Facebook updates, you can tap a button to mute him or her; on the Cloze Web app, this muting can be adjusted to do things like just seeing direct messages and emails, not social-network posts.
There’s a lot of data stored up in your email inboxes and social-network interactions and Cloze reveals all of this in an easy-to-digest, stylish interface. But it’s tough to break the habit of looking at email, Facebook and Twitter the traditional way.
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Email is an essential part of our daily communication, but it can also be a real pain in the ass. Or, going one step further, as my colleague MG Siegler recently put it, “email is the absolute devil”. This fact even prompted him to channel Peter Gibbons and quit email altogether. I, personally, applaud this bold move but, instead of taking a vow of abstinence, am turning to other tools to help find a way to funnel the fire hose. Of course, this problem is not new, and many startups and products have tried to climb Mount Email, many with little success.
While it will take a near-divine intervention for me to declare a winner in this fight, Taskforce, a member of the Y Combinator Winter Class of 2011, is taking a better shot than most other tools I’ve used. (You can check out our February profile of the startup here.)
Taskforce offers an extension that integrates with Gmail to convert your emails into task lists and makes it simple to create reminders. Appearing out of your inbox like a tall Google toolbar, Taskforce, perhaps more importantly comes with collaboration and calendar tools, enabling you to add collaborators, set due dates, and comment on and hide tasks that don’t need to be completed immediately.
When you add a collaborator to a task, Taskforce alerts them to the shared task and if you make updates to the collaborated tasks, it sends further alerts — and your collaborators don’t have to be using Taskforce. (These collaborative functions are what sets it apart from GTasks.) And even though it adds buttons to your emails allowing you to convert them to tasks, Taskforce doesn’t actually access your inbox. Everything happens through the extension.
Since going into beta in February, Taskforce Founders Niccolo Pantucci and Courtland Allen have been poring over feedback from users and are today officially stepping out of beta to launch publicly. They’ve added a few more features to flesh out the extension’s usability.
Taskforce has introduced a mobile app and are now unveiling a paid version of the service, called Taskforce Pro, which includes a number of additions, including collaborative lists that enable light-weight project management to be carried out in teams, GTasks sync to enable tasks to be pushed from Taskforce into GTasks as well as GCal.
Pro will also allow users to reprioritize tasks that they can choose the order in which they work on their to-do lists, take advantage of keyboard shortcuts, as well as (and importantly) the ability to maximize and minimize the size and presentation of the Taskforce in-email app — a much requested feature according to Pantucci, including by yours truly.
Pantucci also told me that Taskforce has seen great early user adoption, with numbers in the “tens of thousands” of signups, including some by “some very well known tech companies”. Although the founders declined to share specific notable users this early in the game, we were able to find out that a particular company that just recently launched its music service in the U.S. has become an active Taskforce user.
In terms of funding, as part of YC’s class of 2011, Taskforce was included in Yuri Milner’s no-strings-attached convertible debt investment offer of $ 150K, which the startup accepted. And thanks to Taskforce’s incubation at Y Combinator, the founders were advised by Paul Buchheit, who is a Partner at YC and also happens to be the creator of Gmail.
Taskforce Pro provides the startup with a great opportunity to begin monetizing, and Pantucci said that, when the founders bounced the idea off of early adopters, many said that they would welcome a paid option. Pro will initially be priced at $ 5 a month, and all Taskforce users will have access to Pro’s features for the first 30 days of using the service, whereafter users will be asked to pay. Those who continue with the free version still have access to Taskforce’s core features — on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
Next stop: Taking Taskforce beyond task management, pushing integration with other tools, like Dropbox, for example. Document management is a possibility as well. To learn more, visit Taskforce at home here.
If you work in office, odds are your inbox is full of Oscar polls, baby pictures, fantasy football tips, and various other obstacles standing in the way of finishing up those TPS reports. Thanks to Xerox’s Business of Your Brain, you can finally deal with the issue from the passive aggressive comfort of you own mailbox. The free Microsoft Outlook plugin lets you know who’s sprinkling in the most exclamation marks and buzzwords per email, who sends the longest messages, and which senders are wasting your time with emails that just say “thank you.” It’s a nice start, but we think we’ll hold out for the premium version that will detonate every Troll doll within a 50-foot radius. Now get back to work — as soon as you’re done checking out video and PR after the break.
Continue reading Xerox’s Business of Your Brain liberates your inbox from annoying coworkers
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Those of you suffering from Android envy can put your jealousy aside momentarily, because Priority Inbox is now available via Gmail’s mobile web app. Up until now, the mail sorting system was available for the desktop and Android devices only, but now smart email prioritizing is anybody’s game. If you didn’t already know, Priority Inbox sorts emails in order of importance by learning from your actions, like how many times you read or reply to messages from a certain address. The feature is available right now on most HTML5-compatible browsers for devices running Android 1.5 and iOS 3.0 or higher, and while it may not be the great equalizer, it’s bound to quell some feelings of OS inadequacy. We’ll chalk it up as a win for the little green monster (and a loss for his green-eyed friend).
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