My idea of deriving a social graph from your email messages isn’t new. In a simple form, sites like Facebook already pull your contacts from webmail sites to build a first draft of your friends list. Unfortunately, your contacts list is a poor map of your actual relationships.
SNARF is a Microsoft project from 2005 which analyzes your email in a much more sophisticated way, and uses this information to help you triage your messages. It has a flexible system of metrics, for example the number of emails you’d sent someone, to calculate an importance score for each contact. Emails from important people are displayed in a top priority area of the UI, away from the less important bacn.
Xobni is a more recent Outlook add-in that analyzes your messages. The slick UI gives you a lot of interesting ways to drill down into the relationships it finds. It gives you fast searching, raw stats on each contact’s mailing patterns, and lots more. Its automatic phone number extraction from messages and the display of attachments by sender look particularly useful.
Looking further afield, there’s some overlap with spam protection services. Spam guards attempt to exclude a particular class of email by analyzing messages. I don’t know of any that go beyond checking if you’ve sent someone an email before in their social analysis, but it seems like a natural direction for some of those companies to head in.
Yahoo and Google both have access to the raw information from millions of mail users, so if they see an advantage in this sort of mail-based social graph, they could create something really compelling. One interesting area is the APIs they offer, which might be enough for a third-party developer to at least show a proof-of-concept demo, though it would no doubt be against the ToS.
What I’ve yet to see if a really painful problem that is solved by any of these services. Xobni is the closest, but it still feels like a great set of additional features for Outlook, not a make-the-pain-stop solution that people will pay for.
I’m certain there are some great ways to solve problems using a mail-based social graph, I just need to find them!
Funhouse Photo User Count: 1,998 total, 73 active. Almost up to 2000 total, with no work on it for the last month.
Event Connector User Count: 91 total, 5 active. A few new users still coming in through the directory, but no conference sign-ups.