Full Nelson: ClearContext Has a Fuzzy Outlook - InformationWeek

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2/20/2008
02:48 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Full Nelson: ClearContext Has a Fuzzy Outlook

I'm not an Outlook user, but most e-mail clients I have tried -- and even Outlook back when I used it -- seem pretty self-explanatory, so I'm a little unclear about the need for ClearContext. This product aims to make Outlook e-mail more manageable, more efficient, more automated. Maybe this is just one of those things where you don't know you're missing. Since our company is moving to Outlook in the next few months, maybe I'll have to see for myself.

I'm not an Outlook user, but most e-mail clients I have tried -- and even Outlook back when I used it -- seem pretty self-explanatory, so I'm a little unclear about the need for ClearContext. This product aims to make Outlook e-mail more manageable, more efficient, more automated. Maybe this is just one of those things where you don't know you're missing. Since our company is moving to Outlook in the next few months, maybe I'll have to see for myself.

For those who live most of their lives within the e-mail construct (and who doesn't; God help us all), maybe a little more feature muscle is in order. I'd love to see some kind of statistic on this, but it seems that a majority of us have at least one other -- probably personal -- e-mail account, and that we've gotten used to some of the features of Gmail or YahooMail and others (yeah, sure, go ahead and get pissed that I didn't name your company, or your choice). One of InformationWeek's advisory board members, Jason Maynard, told attendees of the InformationWeek 500 Conference that he forwards all of his corporate e-mail to his personal e-mail account!

The case for ClearContext does seem compelling, but so do all of those features in Excel and Word that we never use. The idea is that ClearContext identifies the context of an e-mail by analyzing it and prioritizing it; it offers tools that automatically file and process e-mail, and create contextual links between the mail, the calendar and the tasks; and it consolidates everything into a more simplified dashboard.

Many of these things you can do in Outlook, but CEO and founder Deva Hazarika claims that Outlook doesn't know about the potential relationships between items; it doesn't know how to prioritize important topics; doesn't know how to rally collaboration items around a particular project or agenda you might have.

It offers features that also help manage the incessant daily deluge, with Do Not Disturb and the ability to unsubscribe to those pesky threads (now if it can only isolate those annoying grandstanders). It interrupts the interrupts, in other words. It even acts as a secondary spam filter, placing what may have worked through your filter to the bottom of the in-box automatically. Like Google Mail, it can create threaded conversations, pulling together all related messages automatically; and tagging e-mail based on topics. Finally, you can classify information so you can do things like auto upload to Flicker or auto-create WebEx meetings.

Today, ClearContext is just about Outlook, which makes the company's play a little limiting. But Outlook's footprint is big enough for this to be a start. Hazarika thinks that Microsoft is focused on the back-end part of the equation (Exchange) for the corporate market, and thus the opportunity -- the front end is a Microsoft afterthought, he says. For this company's sake, let's hope it stays that way.

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