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:
The initial scan of my email took nearly 10 minutes. Thereafter, it was a wait of one minute when Outlook loaded. Way too long!
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.
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.