Smartr Inbox for Gmail

Networking, both professional and social, requires social grace and subtlety: charm, a relaxed attitude, and a genuine smile, crows’ feet and all. And when networking doesn’t occur face-to-face but rather through digital channels, you need even more savoir-faire to, well, “win friends and influence people.”

Smartr Inbox for Gmail (free) by Xobni is something like a middle-man in this networking-through-technology game, a layer between you and your tools, aimed at extracting more useful information from them.

The tools in this case are Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook. Smartr Inbox lets you search your contacts for anyone you’ve ever emailed, and provides statistics about your relationship: total number of times you’ve emailed, number of emails exchanged charted over time (line graph), who is frequently CC’ed on emails, and more. Connect Smartr to Twitter and Facebook, and when you search for a contact, that person’s recent activity on the other two platforms will appear as well. When you open an email in Gmail, Smartr finds the people in the To, CC, and BCC fields, and pulls up all their recent activity, giving you context about what that person is doing, perhaps more recently than when you last corresponded.

All this information gives you quick but deep insight into your relationship with the person, as well as tidbits about his or her life—which all becomes useful when you need to reconnect and come off as the charming and socially informed person you strive to be. What’s more, you can search for people’s email addresses even if they aren’t a contact in Gmail, so long as they have included their details in one of the other connected platforms.

System Requirements and Set Up

As a free browser plug-in, Smartr Inbox for Gmail works with Firefox 3.6+, Google Chrome, and Safari. Install the plug-in on any of those browsers, make sure it’s enabled, and log in to your Gmail account. A panel will appear on the right, taking up about a fifth of the screen (see the slideshow). You need a free Xobni account to use the tool, but establishing one takes less than a minute.

With the Smartr pane installed, you can type a few letters into the search bar and find all your Gmail contacts that have a match, either in their name or email address. Results appear instantly, almost as fast as you can type.

Watching Your Contacts

To really leverage Smartr, you’ll want to connect it with Facebook and Twitter so that you can see status updates and other activity related to your contacts all in one place. The access that Xobni (which makes Smartr Inbox) requests for Facebook is pretty close to all-inclusive because the Smartr app is essentially letting you use Facebook via the pane in Gmail. If you grant the permission, Xobni will be able to access your Facebook messages, see your family and relationship statuses, post to Facebook as you (because you have the ability to write a status update from the Smartr pane), and more. Anyone with very conservative privacy settings in Facebook may want to skip this integration.

Even though Smartr Inbox connects to multiple social media platforms, it isn’t an advanced social media aggregator for power users, the way HootSuite, TweetDeck, and Seesmic are. For example, Smartr Inbox doesn’t support multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts, nor scheduled posts. It’s more for checking one person’s activity in the context of your relationship with them in Gmail, than watching and responding to all the activity from everyone you follow or are have as a friend.

When I connected Smartr Inbox for Gmail to both Twitter and Facebook, I immediately understood the relevance of having all this information in one place. For example, social rules and niceties dictate that a message in Gmail is more weighty and personal than a public Facebook reply to my sister when she shares exciting news about my nephew (“He’s talking!”). If I’m about to drop a line to my former boss to keep that professional thread intact but see from Twitter that he’s on holiday at the moment, I may wait a week… then ask how was the snorkeling in Belize. Smartr gives you the tools to come off as … well, not “smarter” exactly, but certainly socially informed, considerate, and gracious.

The last piece of the puzzle is LinkedIn, but Smartr Inbox for Gmail doesn’t connect with it as thoroughly as it does with Twitter and Facebook. Smartr only facilitates connecting you with people whom you email frequently but are not yet networking with on LinkedIn. Smartr Inbox doesn’t allow for LinkedIn status updates or other information posted to the professional networking site.

Smartr Inbox for Gmail and Xobni Pro

Smartr Inbox for Gmail works at lightning speed, doesn’t cost a thing, and takes almost no time to install and set up. If you have even an ounce invested in professional networking, getting the plug-in for your Gmail account is a no-brainer. But as a professional, if the bulk of your contacts are stored in Outlook or BlackBerry, the free tool isn’t going to cut it, and you’ll want to look at Xobni Pro ($7.99 per month), which lets you sync contacts across Gmail, Outlook, BlackBerry, and Android, as well as search your email archives and backup your contacts to a cloud service.

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