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Using OtherInbox – An Early Review

My OtherInbox

There’s a local, Austin startup here called OtherInbox that I’ve been using for around a month or so now. Their premise is that there’s plenty of so called “ham” in your email that’s – to use my cynical diction – annoying but useful. You know, all those App Store receipts (why do I get a receipt for paying nothing?) and notifications that someone’s added you in Facebook (“hey, thanks for the add!”).

What it Does

The mechanics of this are straight forward: when you start using OtherInbox, it sorts out your email into different folders (as seen above). Once your email is sorted out into different folders, you can read the emails, delete them, or (one of the potentially more interesting features) “block” further email to address.

The folder sorting is based on the address the emails are sent to (see below) and, it seems some other heuristics. The simplest way get OtherInbox wired up is to start using the new email address it gives you. That’s right, OtherInbox gives you a new email address. For me, that was [email protected], where “anything” could be any word I wanted. So, for example, I could have switched over my Amazon email address to [email protected].

Now, you’re probably thinking: I don’t want another damn email address. That was my first reaction too. There’s a couple other options as well.

Adding Your Own Domain Name

First, you can setup any domain name you have to start sending email to OtherInbox. I have several domain names that I don’t really use for anything. I wanted a short email address that’d be easier to thumb into the iPhone when logging into web sites, so I wired up to OtherInbox. Thus, instead of using [email protected] as my OtherInbox address, I can now use [email protected]. The address is much easier to type in than but also the one I used to use,

(I see they also own, which might be a nice shortener as well if I got a single letter username.)

GMail Hook-up

The second option for customizing your email address is to hook-up OtherInbox to GMail. I’m in a beta program for testing this at the moment. It’s working marginally well, given it’s a beta.

Here, OtherInbox goes into your GMail account and pulls out email from it, sorting them into OtherInbox folders and moving the emails out of your inbox. It doesn’t delete the emails from GMail; it just moves them to your All Mail/archive folder, out of the inbox. Also, it doesn’t seem to mess with Labels and filters you’ve setup in GMail.

There’s a certain spookiness here in letting some other service mess with your email, but its gone well so far. The effect is what you see above: a whole bunch of folders from all the chuckle-heads who send me email. More importantly, so far, those chuckle-heads have seemed to be businesses and organizations instead of individuals. Maybe I’m looking through the email wrong, but it seems pretty good at sniffing out the semantics of a From: address to be a company rather than say, my wife.

What’s a little buggy about it so far is that I’ve surfaced some spam that GMail had previously hidden from me, like that CNN folder. I setup some filter in GMail to just delete these little guys, but they keep showing up in OtherInbox. Also, I’m not sure if the “Block All” feature is bi-directional to GMail, or even working: I thought I blocked those silly CNN and hi5 ones. (No offense to hi5.)

The Semantic Inbox

More so than what OtherInbox does now, the thing I’m interested in are the “coming soon” features. Things like detecting and collecting together receipts, building up a calendar from your email, find coupons, and do other things like “track spending.”

I haven’t seen anything along these lines yet, but they sound promising. I do a lot of calendar and receipt based things daily – scheduling meetings across time zones and organizations, building up digital piles of expenses for expense reports – and anything that helps along those lines is fantastic. As a small example, in both GMail and you can easily create new calendar entries from text like “1/29 at 9AM PST,” which I use all the time.

To use the (now) horky term in the sub-section title here, OtherInbox wants to ferret out the semantics of all your email and actually do things with them. That’d be fantastic.

The Usual Concerns

While writing this, someone DM’ed me in Twitter asking about the privacy and security of OtherInbox. As he pointed out, it’d be perfect for ID theft. Indeed. GMail and Yahoo! Mail would be too: the only thing you have to go off is trusting the OtherInbox folks not to be evil. Google has seen fit to cover themselves with a motto on that one, which is about all one can ask for. That said, the OtherInbox people are a legit, real company here in Austin, not just some .com site out there in the clouds waiting to for the order to DoS Estonia.

On the other hand, the founders are from the e-marketing world and you can bet that part of their revenue is taking advantage of the channel they’re building up here: 10,000 registered users so far. I don’t see anything too wrong with this, esp. given the price of OtherInbox.

RedMonk client Spiceworks‘ business-model is similarly predicated on taking advantage of channel of cleaned-up attention. Spiceworks has managed to carve out a happy user base and, from what they tell me, a happy base of people using their channel. The same can be said of GMail, Yahoo! Mail, MSN, Facebook, etc.

Also, speculating on my own here, there’s the possibility to simply offering paying for the service instead of having it be ad-supported. Using them as an example again, Spiceworks provides this an option for people who’d rather pay cash, instead of attention, for their software.

The End Effect

OtherInbox Daily Summary

Despite the current simplicity of OtherInbox and the weird behavior in the beta level GMail integration, I actually like using OtherInbox. It make me spend less time sorting out my personal email, this despite the fact that it doesn’t work perfectly. Sure, it’s still a dancing bear, but that’s why it’s in invite only beta, right?

Thinking on this, I realize that a large part of that is due to simply getting it out of my face minute-by-minute. Instead of seeing new emails pop into my inbox, the primary way I see most of my email now is the daily summary that OtherInbox sends me. Scanning a batch like that is great.

Clearly, their challenge for 2009 is to move beyond the bear and get a legit dancer up there; that is, implement all those interesting semantic features. To pluck an artificial date out of the air (that’d be good for marketing, though), hopefully they’ve setup SXSWi as a date for new features.

Also, it should be noted that the OtherInbox team has been extremely high-touch so far with their community. Not only are they active in Twitter, but the mailing list for their GMail integration beta is much more active than I would have though. Oh, and the iPhone interface ain’t too shabby either, see above.

Email: The Unfixable Problem

On a wider scale, email has long been the number one tool of information workers. The GTD-nuts and the Cult of Zero Inbox have done a good job of innovating principals around dealing with email, but for as old and vital as email is, there hasn’t been much evolution of the technology itself.

There was sort of a salvation-from-email feel around RSS awhile ago, but Marshall is onto something when he recently threw the zombie dust on it (the usual retort applies); and I’m a big nut for “enterprise RSS” from way back!

Fixing email, in the end, will be about dealing with email not as a legacy or misappropriated technology, but embracing it as vital and important. That is, we can’t get people out of using email, we can only help them use it better.

Disclosure: as mentioned, Spiceworks is a client, as is Microsoft.

Categories: The New Thing.

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3 Responses

  1. I am also using the other inbox. Its great !!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] Michael CoteJanuary 13, 2009Michael Cote, an industry analyst with RedMonk, provides an early review of OtherInbox. Starting with the mechanics on how OtherInbox works, to revealing the end […]

  2. […] you come by Dave & Buster’s in Austin tonight, you can get your free OIB T.If you write a blog post about your experience with OtherInbox (good or bad) by 3/09/09 and send it to us, you could get a […]