Thursday, August 4, 2005


Microsoft is working on launching a new version of Hotmail. Some information is here. Also a screenshot is here.

The screenshot looks similar to Inner Circle, the email program I wrote about back in February when I visited Microsoft Research. I wonder if someone got some ideas from my column?:)

Inner Circle. The most interesting application to come out this idea is an email program the group dubbed Inner Circle, which lists alphabetically a user's top 40 correspondents. The program dynamically changes this list over time to reflect the user's top current correspondents. Not surprisingly, the top people on these Inner Circle-created lists tend to be the individuals those users care about the most. When an Inner Circle user clicks on a person in that list, the program displays all the conversations the user has had with that person as well as any relevant documents or links that were sent. Users can also mark an item and share it with others on their lists.

Says Ms. Cheng, "We compared this email system to a search-based email client [folders]. [Although] search was faster, our test group liked this one [Inner Circle] the best. I think it was because with search, you know things are there, but you don't feel confident that things are being organized for you. So you still have that angst of not organizing anything because you don't trust it enough. So they like to see the people being organized in the system for them."

Personally, I found the service Ms. Cheng described to be very appealing—which led me to wonder why Microsoft hasn't already integrated it with Hotmail or Outlook. In fact, Outlook integration makes perfect sense because work-related emails are typically mixed with important personal contacts throughout a user's address book. With Hotmail, on the other hand, the service could lure back users who've jumped ship to take advantage of the unique functionality and structure of Google's Gmail service. Besides Gmail's increased storage capacity, users have been attracted by its unique interface, which lets you categorize and label emails without losing their place and time your overall inbox. Inner Circle represents another approach to email organization that Microsoft can integrate into its current email structures or intertwine with a Gmail-like system.

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