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SNARF: Lots of Promise

Late last week there was quite a bit of commentary on a new utility from Microsoft Research called SNARF, or Social Network and Relationship Finder.  SNARF uses relationships to help you sort and categorize email — the same thing iotum does for incoming voice calls.  The promise of SNARF is that you will get to the most important email first. 

Interestingly enough, most of the commentary was from people who had read about SNARF, but not used it.  So, I downloaded it and installed.

It’s easy to see why this came from Microsoft’s Research Group, rather than a product group.  At this point, it’s a science experiment.  SNARF shows immense promise, but it’s wholly unfinished.  For instance:

  1. The initial scan of my email took nearly 10 minutes.  Thereafter, it was a wait of one minute when Outlook loaded.  Way too long!
  2. The UI is clunky is a clunky mix of pull-down drawers and pop-up tree views.  It’s not something an ordinary person would use.
  3. It’s not possible to jump from the relationship view directly to a REPLY mode in email.  As a result, SNARF displays interesting information about your email relationships, but doesn’t allow you to act on them.

Some time ago I wrote an Outlook filter that compares FROM email addresses to my address book, and slots those folks I don’t know into a low priority folder.  I’m already getting 80% of the value that SNARF might offer.  If you want to have a look at what that might evolve to, and what a social model of email filtering might be like, then SNARF is a tantalizing glimpse of the future.  Just don’t expect to get any real work done with it. 

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Brad Meador December 6, 2005, 11:13 am

    Alec:

    My company provides an email prioritization tool with some more polish on it than SNARF. ClearContext Inbox Manager for Microsoft Outlook is an add-in that prioritizes email on various characteristics, including sender, and provides tools for automatically categorizing and filing messages. For a comparison to SNARF, see our weblog post:
    http://blog.clearcontext.com/2005/12/microsoft_re

    If you are interested in checking us out, I would love to hear your thoughts on the product. If you check us out, please send me an email with questions/comments.

    Thanks for your time,

    Brad Meador
    brad ( at) clearcontext.com
    ClearContext Corporation

  • Alec December 6, 2005, 8:05 pm

    Thanks for the tip, Brad. I will give it a shot.

  • Robyn Tippins December 7, 2005, 7:32 am

    I tried Snarf. It is ugly and I have a hard time opening it and leaving it up. It looks so 1995-ish that it appears out-of-place on my desktop (kinda like the Google Sidebar did and one of the main reasons it didn't last on my computer).

    I am slightly embarrased to admit that looks matter more than usefulness to me, but as a person who downloaded a skin for del.icio.us, I know that this is a flaw of mine and I compensate…

    Snarf wasn't all that useful anyway.

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