Podcast: Xobni's New Quest. Revenue.

Will Xobni's revenue model prove out and who else wants to win in the social mining space?

Xobni co-founder Matt Brezina joined Microsoft Subnet blogger Ron Barrett and me on the Converging On Microsoft Podcast again to talk about Xobni's paid for version, Xobni Plus. (Check out the new music on the podcast too.) A little more than one year ago I stumbled onto Xobni after reading an article where Bill Gates talked about the Xobni Outlook plug-in. At the time, Xobni struck me as a category maker kind of product, a great idea and something I'd never seen before. Mining social networking data from your email inbox made a lot of sense. Xobni's managed to keep a lot of the attention in this emerging market, and has now come out with a paid for version of the product. Like many social networking products and services, the strategy has been to gain critical mass and mindshare, and then monetizing that into a profitable premium product or service.Xobni's doing this by adding several advanced search features and email address autocomplete in Xobni Plus. The free Xobni already has better search than Outlook's search, and Xobni Plus adds additional criteria (like to, from, timeframe, attachment, etc.) and can search your calendar appointments and tasks too. The autocomplete offers improvements over Outlook's email address autocomplete functionality, leveraging the information Xobni already has about your email contacts. Autocomplete in Outlook has got to be one of the most useful and yet frustrating things in Outlook. It frequently forgets names it previously found, seems to never forget wrong names and addresses you accidently entered, and gets in the way about as much as it is helpful. If Xobni has solved this problem, it's earned the "plus" in Xobni Plus right there.

Here's a promo video about Xobni Plus:

As far as search goes, I'm sure the search additions are helpful above and beyond the free version of Xobni. I have mixed experiences with Xobni's search, though not with the search itself, but the way it shows results. I'm constantly clicking one thing, thinking it will get me somewhere where I can actually open up the email, hitting the back button, going somewhere I didn't expect, etc. I think the problem is the limitations of the in-Outlook window subpane Xobni has to work within. I don't like how the email message content is displayed and the browser-like back button navigation leaves me with the feeling I never quite know where I am. Others probably have a different experience and that's why they love the Xobni search so much. For me, it can be great but also can take me down a rabbit hole I didn't intend.Is advanced search and autocomplete enough to cause $29 bucks to transfer from customers' wallets into Xobni's accounts receivable? Maybe. The list of premium features initially struck me as a bit light, but I also know Xobni is fanatical about listening to their customers' feedback, so maybe that's all they need to get enough users to cough up the dough for a premium version. I haven't personally had a chance to work with the Xobni Plus version to know if I'd value it enough or not. Time will tell. Xobni's a good company, I like what they are doing a lot, and I wish them the best.Now, given all the attention Xobni's received, there's got to be other social network mining tools, services and products out there, right? A few I'm familiar with are Gist (does what Xobni does but accros multiple social networking services and is web based) and OneRiot (a social media search engine). I suspect there are probably more out there than I have time to test, but the products that will capture may attention are those that save me time, keep me better informed, improve my productivity and tell me useful things I didn't know and probably wouldn't have found out on my own anyway.

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