Microsoft aims to end inbox bane with panes

Software giant Microsoft has unveiled a new free tool called SNARF that helps users sift through bulging inboxes using a social sorting approach

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By  Cleona Godinho Published  December 5, 2005

Software giant Microsoft has unveiled a new free tool called SNARF that helps users sift through bulging inboxes using a social sorting approach. SNARF, which stands for Social Network and Relationship Finder is part of a project headed by Microsoft’s research division. According to the firm, the tool simply counts e-mails, sorts them by sender, and draws assumptions about their priority based on the frequency of interaction. In effect, this means the people you interact with the most - your friends, family and colleagues - will be given top priority over other senders. “SNARF grew out of an exploration of how people triage their e-mail and whether social information would help,” stated A.J. Brush, a Microsoft researcher on Microsoft.com. “We often say, ‘Your dog knows the difference between strangers and friends who visit your house; why shouldn’t your e-mail client?’” SNARF indexes a user’s e-mails and then displays a three-pane window. The first pane displays messages sent directly to the user. The second shows e-mails sent to other people but also including the user’s name. Lastly, the third shows messages sent to anyone and everyone. For instance, e-mail newsletters that include names of friends, family and colleagues in the message body will be displayed here. This approach creates a priority list that lets you tackle e-mails targeted specifically at the user and then deal with the rest. Apart from its social sorting feature, SNARF also lets users view messages via a thread view. Although this feature is not offered as standard by Outlook, it is offered by Google’s popular web-based e-mail service- G-mail. This view lets users see entire conversations (threads) in chronological order, from top to bottom. If the tool proves popular with users, Microsoft plans to include the feature in upcoming versions of its e-mail clients. Users can download the beta version of SNARF from http://research.microsoft.com/community/snarf. The tool requires Microsoft Outlook 2002 or 2003 and is not yet compatible with any non-Microsoft e-mail clients. Besides the latest versions of Outlook, budding ‘snarfers’ will also need to download Microsoft’s .NET framework and its Windows Installer tool before they can begin using SNARF.

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