When I first started using e-mail, I had an AOL address and my screen name referenced my favorite comic book character. E-mail was shiny. It had the new-tech smell to it. Fast forward to now, and e-mail is a chore. We log on every day and slog through a ton of e-mails from co-workers, family, friends, and strangers. The task can be boring, and even instill bad habits. Enter Xobni. This free service allows you to bring together rich information about your contacts and e-mail while you’re in Outlook or viewing Gmail from any computer. Using Xobni Pro you can do even more with your e-mail and contacts, but is it worth the price?

I’ve only been using Xobni for a little over a month, and I really enjoy the added functionality it brings. There is a lot you can do with this service. There are gadgets to incorporate your Dropbox or Evernote (along with other services) and a mobile app for the Blackberry. I haven’t used any of those things yet. Right now I am using the Xobni plugin for Outlook and the extension for Chrome. The Xobni for Gmail is still in beta, so use at your own risk.

Rich Contact Information

When you install Xobni for Outlook or Gmail, you go through and add all the services that you want to link. I connected my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts. Xobni will spend some time indexing your mail. Depending on how many contacts and e-mails you have, this can take a few minutes. Once it’s done, you will have a pane on the right side of your window for Xobni. It will pull contact pictures for everyone you e-mail, and try to find their Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter profiles.

You can easily see if you are connected to an e-mail recipient on the various social networking sites. As I was writing this post, I found someone I wasn’t connected to on LinkedIn, and Xobni provides a convenient “Add” button right in the sidebar. Without leaving your e-mail client, you can also see what that person has been up to. This really worked out well for me the other day, when I was able to wish someone congratulations on a new job based on a tweet they sent.

In addition to information about the person you are currently e-mailing, Xobni shows you who else you usually contact at the same time. Similar to a Gmail labs feature, Xobni will prompt you to include others in the e-mail. Definitely a great way to make sure you don’t awkwardly forget to include someone in a department-wide e-mail. For me, the best part about Xobni is when it gives you information on people you don’t know (or possibly don’t remember). Since Xobni automatically provides a contact image from the person’s social media accounts, it is much easier to put a face to a name when you get an e-mail. This has been nice when I have a phone/e-mail relationship with someone. Xobni allows me to put a face to that person so I know who I am talking to.

Limitations on Free Accounts

During the time I’ve used Xobni to manage my e-mail, the social media integration has been most of what I’ve used it for. While writing this post, I tried to poke around a little more and really dig into its functionality. Unfortunately, a lot of the really cool features require a pro account. For example, while reading an e-mail from my mom I can pull up my brother in the Xobni tab and find that picture he sent me. If I had Xobni Pro I could easily click the picture and send it to my mom right from the sidebar. Pretty cool stuff.

Especially in Outlook, Xobni Pro seems to offer significant enhancements including a cloud-based backup service and contact sync across devices. Not to mention being able to index e-mail across various Outlook profiles. But these services, at least for me, are not worth the $47.95 a year that Xobni charges.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/4660273582/)