E-mail overload? ClearContext promises help

Shoveling smarter means shoveling faster

ClearContext has released a new version of its Outlook e-mail management tool with improvements that it claimed can save users an hour or more each day on e-mail.

Version 4 of Information Management System (IMS) gives users an integrated dashboard view of all the e-mails, appointments and contacts related to a given project -- something that "fundamentally hasn't been possible in Outlook before," said ClearContext CEO Deva Hazarika.

"If you wanted to create an appointment, that was one silo. If you wanted to add to your to-do list, that was another silo," said Hazarika, who is also founder of the San Francisco-based company.

Projects are created automatically by the IMS application, which scans users' e-mail threads and contacts in order to map a social contact network, Hazarika said.

"You don't need to tag or mark anything," he said. "We do all the linkage behind the scenes."

IMS also lets users rank the importance of contacts or e-mail threads so that the arrival of a high-priority message can trigger a pop-up alert.

To get the most out of IMS v4, Hazarika suggested that users follow a three-step process that his company has developed, which he described as similar to, but less detailed and restrictive than, productivity regimens such as those of Getting Things Done or Franklin Covey Co.

The goal, though, is the same: let users work more productively and with fewer disruptions.

An e-mail shovel for the rest of us

Founded in 2003 by Hazarika, ClearContext previously targeted power e-mail users.

"Our previous products worked great for those who were great with structure, who were already organized," he said. The updated version is aimed at helping a broader set of users: those who get 50 or more e-mails a day but find that they can't easily keep up with their swelling in-boxes, feel stressed from constant interruptions and have trouble finding archived e-mails related to a certain project.

"This is aimed at people who find themselves looking all over the place for information," Hazarika said.

IMS can also help users who are forced by corporate IT policies to keep a small Exchange in-box file. The software lets users set rules for creating and moving messages to offline folders. Those folders can be local folders or SharePoint public folders.

While previous versions of IMS let users easily view related e-mails if they were part of a single thread (similar to Google's Gmail), Version 4 lets users assign multiple threads to a single topic or project, Hazarika said.

The new version also includes an unsubscribe feature. It lets users continue getting messages from a listserv or a long-running e-mail thread to which they are cc:'ed, but automatically moves them into a holding folder before they have a chance to clutter up their in-box.

This version works for Outlook XP and all versions thereafter, including Outlook 2007. It costs US$89.95 per user. A free 30-day trial can be downloaded from the ClearContext site.

Hazarika acknowledged that while instant messaging, voice over IP and other forms of unified communication are quickly catching on in business, he believes that most important business communication is still conducted via e-mail.

"IM is still mostly for social, ad hoc communications. It's not yet part of the message flow for work that needs to be captured," he said.

Hazarika said he has no plans to make a version for Lotus Notes.

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Eric Lai

Computerworld

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