I’m back in the UK after a week taking absolute delight in discovering how things get done in New York.
(That’s probably an article for another day, but the summary is that in contrast to almost anywhere else I’ve been, it’s the density that makes New York magical – people who inspire you, people who can help you, people you can contribute to, and the background buzz of that many humans just doing things, who are all easily reachable in minutes rather than hours, just accelerates everything you want to achieve and expands your mind to new possibilities. Ok ok, I’ll stop the nauseating gushing now…).
I got to learn your best practices
Despite the invitation to meet being very last minute, I got a chance to see four ActiveInboxers.
David Shalev (whose chosen surname actually means tranquility!) has made it his business to meet with highly stressed execs, understand their true frustrations, and teach them the optimal way to use technology to rise above the sensation of being overwhelmed.
When he discovered ActiveInbox it was a dream for bringing email under control, and it’s now taught to all his clients. Which was wonderful for me, because it meant David (incredibly warm hearted despite being utterly jet-lagged) had received tons of insights into how we can tweak ActiveInbox to be more useful to a wide range of people while reducing the amount they have to learn.
Andrew Gross was calm and steady, despite doing a job that would reduce me to the shape of a ball in the corner – he was a project manager with hundreds of projects, and nearly as many clients and colleagues. Naturally, his demands on his tech tools were extreme, but he’d figured out a powerful solution for handling the volume, built largely around email management.
The most enlightening perspective he told me was that he sees his email as his own personal knowledge base, and uses filters to automatically assign notifications from the other tools his company uses.
This means that all the information in his life is neatly organized by project and ‘type’ (e.g. ‘meeting minutes’) and priority status if he needs to do something.
And one of the best payoffs from doing this is searchability… using Gmail’s superior search meant he had one input box from which he could find everything, rather than logging into all the different systems his company used and using their inferior and fragmented search mechanisms.
The good news is that I’m slowly feeding what I learnt back into our support docs, to share with everyone.
I have a much better understanding of the possibilities that lie ahead
The most common theme of the ideas we discussed (and we discussed many ideas!), was “Ok, you’ve helped me organize everything and empty my inbox, now guide me to help me complete it”.
Chris Rodriguez was particularly inspired in his thinking on this, and I really liked his suggestion (influenced by Google Now) that if ActiveInbox notices you’re replying to ‘Bob’, to automatically pull together a dossier about ‘Bob’ to help you effortlessly write a reply that clears up as much as possible in the minimum amount of time.
And the other big idea was to reduce the things you have to do into bite-sized chunks, which ActiveInbox then suggests you do at opportune times (e.g. when there’s a break in your calendar). This would be so much better than just being faced with a terrifyingly large list.
Meanwhile, Samer needed the control of ActiveInbox for his own emails, but also to share customer conversations with his team, ideally via his CRM. I.e. he either needs to be able to say ‘Share this conversation with Sue’, or ‘Sync this conversation into my company CRM’. Fortunately, integrations are very much on our roadmap.
This, and much more, will be discussed on the blog and in the forum in coming months!
I want to do more of this
The take-away for me, other than ActiveInboxers are an interesting and lovely bunch, was that I want to spend much more of my time meeting you all. Over coffee if we’re in the same town, and via Skype if not.
This use of my time needs to be balanced with the demands of improving ActiveInbox and providing a level of support I’m deeply proud of – as much as I’d love to I can’t spend all my day in coffee shops 😉 – but I’ll be reaching out to as many of you as I can from now on.
This was written by Andy Mitchell
> “to automatically pull together a dossier about ‘Bob’ that helps you write a reply to clear up as much as possible in the minimum amount of time.”
Stuff like this is already done by companies like “smartrInbox”, “Rapportive”, “Cirrus Insight”, “mon.ki”, “Xobni” and many others. I totally see no reason why ActiveInbox should tap into that realm too. Until now, ActiveInbox is very consistent. I don’t want it to become a tool like “YesWare” or even more fragmented!
“…the other big idea was to reduce the things you have to do into bite-sized chunks, which ActiveInbox then suggests you do at opportune times (e.g. when there’s a break in your calendar). This would be so much better than just being faced with a terrifyingly large list.”
This area is covered by apps / chrome extensions like “Boomerang” etc. But more than that, I think it would be extremely hard to really pull this off (artificial intelligence, really?!) and totally dependent on the key assumption that everyone uses their GMail calendar (in the same / needed way). That is absolutely absurd. ActiveInbox is (yet) a niche product, but I am sure no one wants to decrease the user base even more. i.e. what I mean is: All (esp. new!) features of ActiveInbox should in principle be “for everyone”, usable by everyone. Those features don’t need to be complex, they just need to solve problems that are otherwise hard to solve by hand and/or (almost) impossible to achieve or recreate in the native GMail web interface!
Which means I don’t at all see a need for such a feature and can only disapprove of allocating developer time at this aspect. If someone faces a “terrifyingly long” list, they have to ask themselves: Did I filter this list enough? What kept me from filtering more? Or, simply: Do I maybe have too many projects and to-do’s on my plate?
ActiveInbox is there to help, but it cannot solve the (psychological) problem of people overcommitting to (or being forced to commit to) too many projects!
Thanks for that as an update Andy – seems like some good input from users out in the wild.
Whilst I agree with the sentiment of Philipp, I think he may be a bit over zealous in his appraisal of the risks to change. If you can continue to develop the product into a tool that makes easier and faster to decide, record, and action my inbox then I welcome it.
Yes there are other products I can use like Boomerang, but if that functionality and AIB functionality was in the one app then happy days – less overhead on my browser session and less plugins that can break.
I would be concerned though if major functionality was added that then bloated AIB and meant that it ran slower, because speed is the primary thing for me and I imagine many users.
As for integrations, have you looked at working with a group like OneSaas that allows you to integrate to their system which then in turns can push/pull data to/from other systems. We are currently getting our ERP system integrated, it’s a great platform – http://www.onesaas.com/ – click on the Integrations link to see the different products already involved (Salesforce, Zoho CRM, accounting systems etc).
I concur with Samer in that ActiveInbox For Teams (to put a name on it) is what we’re looking for. With distributed teams spread across multiple countries (and even if they were in the same room!) collaboration on and sharing of Task Lists (and Project folders) is important. And when you’re a service-based organisation, the other people you ‘collaborate with’ are clients and contractors.
While it’s great if individuals on a team all manage their email inboxes efficiently using ActiveInbox, their inboxes all remain silos of information. That doesn’t help an organisation get things done and to provide great service (as there’s no transparency on ‘how are we doing here? keeping up? being responsive?’), as well as a platform that seamlessly lets people delegate, report back and keep each other in the loop.
That’s why tools like HelpScout and SupportBee are evolving email into more of an intelligent ‘team inbox’ (and HelpScout does the ‘make a dossier’-like function too, in the sidebar). These apps are morphing the concept of help desks like Zendesk with email, so that end users only ever experience using email, and never the impersonal, ‘Reply above this line’ and ‘Ticket Number xys123’ messages that help desk platforms produce.
I love the searchability of Gmail, but this team/collaboration aspect is where it (and ActiveInbox, by extension) is currently lagging. We use Wrike as our Task/Project Management platform, and it’s fantastic and what it does, but the fact remains that you have to often ‘send stuff to Wrike’ and add the Task in there, when it’s easier to use ActiveInbox to just leave it in Gmail and Label a message as Action or Waiting etc., then date it and archive it (‘Defer’ it as GTD calls it). So having Gmail as the hub makes sense for a Google Apps-based team… but, there’s no team-wide transparency.
We are about to trial GrexIt in combination with ActiveInbox, and I’m hoping this might solve this issue for us, but we’ll see, as their Labels (according to their Google Marketplace listing) must within the GrexIt shared folder, which might not be compatible with ActiveInbox’s use of Labels. GrexIt https://www.google.com/enterprise/marketplace/viewListing?productListingId=5337+4027123137344563883&category&query=email+shared&pli=1# allows a team to create Labels that automatically appear across all users’ Gmail accounts, as well as a shared inbox for important (e.g. support) emails.
If you have any experience in using GrexIt and ActiveInbox together, I’d love to hear of any tips or traps.
One great thing about apps like HelpScout, however, that this sort of ActiveInbox+GrexIt system is unlikely to be able to replicate, is that when a support team member is replying to a shared email, they are notified in real-time that “Mary is also replying to this email, are you sure you want to also reply?” which is super smart and efficient, and stops an organisation from looking disjointed with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, so to speak.
If ‘ActiveInBox for Teams’ could provide a combo of what GrexIt and HelpScout does, then you’d be on a winner as an email Task *and* Collaboration platform.
Thanks MC, this is very much in line with what we’ve wanted to do for a long time (but we had to perfect the single user experience first, please see http://www.activeinboxhq.com/support/about.php#roadmap).
Your comment is actually much more insightful than I ever could have asked for, so when we start, if it’s ok with you, I’d love to do both interviews and testing with you.
Oh, and a word on Grexit, it’s definitely worked for a fellow chap in Australia; so while I can’t give specific advice (as I don’t use it), I know you should be able to find success 🙂
Hi Andy. Thanks for your reply. Happy to discuss further. I appreciate your responsiveness as a developer. Have tested GrexIt today, and so far so good, but we’ll see how it goes ‘in the real world’ this week as I collaborate with colleagues.
Hi Michael. Curious to know how you guys are going with Grexit and AIB. We also use both apps along with boomerang. We also dabble with Wrike (mainly for Gantt).
Hi @tim_jasper:disqus . Had other priorities gurgle up over the top of our Grexit testing. So we parked the evaluation. Considering it again as a streamlined, email-centric way of handling support emails, versus purpose-built tools like Help Scout. In GTD terms. we’re trying to minimise the number of ‘collection buckets’ we use in our business, so if we could turn Gmail into a support email collaboration tool (vi Grexit) that would be great. Are you still using Grexit and ActiveInbox together? How is it going?