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Monday, December 05, 2005

Social Networking and Relationship Finder

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Microsoft Research has released a program that can help sort through e-mail so that correspondence that you're most likely to want to see ends up where you're most likely to see it.
SNARF (Social Network and Relationship Finder) is a free, add-on program that works with Outlook 2003 and up. It "knows" which e-mail is coming from your contacts and how important those contacts are to you based on how often you correspond with them. Microsoft calls it "social sorting."

Filters and rules are clunky ways of sorting e-mail. A simpler method would spare time and help avoid lost messages.

SNARF, the Social Network and Relationship Finder, developed by Microsoft Research and available for download, is designed to help computer users cope with precisely such scenarios. SNARF, a complement to e-mail programs such as Outlook, filters and sorts e-mail based on the type of message and the user’s history with an e-mail correspondent. The result: a collection of alternative views of your e-mail that can help you make sense of the deluge.
The process on which SNARF is based is called social sorting.

SNARF was built around the notion that social network information that is already available to the computer system can be usefully reflected to the user: a message from a manager might be seen differently than a message from a stranger, for example. SNARF applies this idea to email triage: handling the flow of messages when time is short and mail is long.

The SNARF UI is designed to provide a quick overview of unread mail, organized by its importance. The UI shows a series of different panes with unread mail in them; each pane shows a list of authors of messages. Clicking on a name shows all messages involving that person.

People use a variety of strategies to handle triage; there is no single "best" ordering of email messages to produce an optimal outcome.

SNARF gives the user the freedom to build their own ordering. Each person in their inbox is assigned a set of meta-information: "number of emails sent in the last month," for example. These metrics can, in turn, be combined to create an ordering across all contacts. The tool, which has been deployed within Microsoft for a field study, simply counts e-mails, sorts them by sender, and draws conclusions about their relative importance from the intensity of the correspondence relationship.

When launched for the first time, SNARF indexes your e-mail. When indexing is complete, a window with three panes is displayed. The top pane includes a list of people who have sent recent, unread e-mail addressed or cc’d to you. The middle pane includes people who have sent recent, unread e-mail addressed to anyone. And the bottom pane includes all people mentioned in any e-mail you have received in the past week.

A configuration panel enables you to change the types of messages displayed and to sort them in different ways. Once you have the tool configured as you prefer, you can double-click on a contact’s name within one of the panes, then view a list of all recent e-mail from that person. It works with mailing lists, too, and you can organize mail by threads and read the entire thread in chronological order, top to bottom.

System Requirements
SNARF requires Microsoft Outlook (2003, 2002) as a MAPI source. It has been tested with Exchange and MAPI servers, Hotmail, POP, IMAP, and the OL

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