This week I discovered and installed Rapportive into my Gmail inbox. The concept is simple; bring the context from various social networks right into your inbox, so when you receive an email you can see a real time profile of the sender, across all their social activity.
I'm sure you, like me, don't have time to monitor every update from every contact on every one of your social networks. Rapportive means you no longer need to worry. A quick mouse over on their profile gives you everything you need right there and then. Simple. Perfect. So good it may freak your mail recipient out a little!
This works beautifully for creating a more personal relationship with your email contacts, allowing you to add personalised contextual richness into your email conversations with them. "looks like you had a great weekend snowboarding", "how is the new puppy, still chewing the furniture?", etc
Rapportive is one of those things that you immediately feel at home with. Installation is super easy, a simple browser plugin, it then integrates unintrusively in the Gmail menu bar, and profiles then load in the right hand column of the Gmail screen, replacing the right hand ad space. And there's another benefit right there - fewer ad's to see! You wonder why no one had thought of this before.
Strangely using it for a week made me feel kind of sad I can't use Gmail for my business email, to get the full benefit of seeing context information for all my mail conversations. You see isn't just beneficial for maintaining high touch personal relations with friends, you can also get business related insights from the data like peoples Klout score, Crunchbase profile and Linked In information.
Apart from making me want to use Gmail more (note to Google, you should like this) Rapportive also triggered another thought....
If you think of a traditional slave / master relationship, the Rapportive experience sucks in data from various social networks into your email inbox. To me this kind of implies your inbox is your focus, your priority, where you spend your quality time online. The master.
In 2012 this doesn't feel quite right.
Since the social explosion I find email a chore, rather than a focus. I'm trying to do as much as I can to consign it into my personal communication graveyard to join IM, and Voicemail. It's just feels distinctly dated. Of course email is still (annoyingly) an essential tool for business, but in my personal life email has dried up to pretty much zero. Replaced by text messages (SMS), Facebook messages or Twitter DMs.
Now Rapportive's current approach may simply be ease of programming, rather than the result of a physiological study, but it does pose an interesting question: Would the ideal experience be information flow in the opposite direction?
Your social network(s) of choice are probably where you spend the majority of your online line, not your inbox. For example Americans spent just shy of seven hours on Facebook in November 2011.
So back to the master / slave analogy, clearly Facebook is the master here...a really neat solution would be to take away the hassle of checking my inbox, forever!
Notify me on my social networks how many emails I have, who are they from, who those people are, how I'm connected to them, which of my other friends they may know. In other words bring email into my social graph, rather than the other way around.
In addition, allow me to reply using what ever method I want (Facebook message, Twitter DM, Linked In message, etc) and take care the conversion seamlessly in the background, so the original sender gets my reply back in a format they can handle, and maintain conversation thread & context.
Just me thinking out aloud. If you use Gmail, go install Rapportive now!