Microsoft Simplifies E-mail with 'SNARF'

Microsoft says that social networking information already present on our computers could help us better organize cluttered e-mail inboxes. Thus, the company's research division has developed a new application called SNARF, short for Social Network and Relationship Finder.

The SNARF interface will allow a user to order their unread mail in the way that makes the most sense to them. "People use a variety of strategies to handle triage; there is no single 'best' ordering of email messages to produce an optimal outcome," Microsoft says.

A user can select a certain quality to order their mail using a series of panes. For example, messages could be separated by the date they were sent, or if they were sent directly to the user or as part of a mailing list.

Under each pane, the e-mails will be split up by author, allowing a user to see all messages falling under a certain category by that particular person. Authors who are known to the user are then automatically sorted to the top of the list, while strangers get less precedence.

SNARF requires either Microsoft Outlook 2002 or 2003 as a MAPI source, as well as the .NET Framework to run. It has also been tested with Exchange, Hotmail, POP, IMAP, and the OL Connector for Lotus Notes, Microsoft said.

"SNARF grew out of an exploration of how people triage their e-mail and whether social information would help," Microsoft researcher AJ Brush said. "We often say, 'Your dog knows the difference between strangers and friends who visit your house; why shouldn't your e-mail client?'"

The idea for SNARF is nothing new, according to the team behind it. A similar project called Priorities had been developed several years ago. However, the difference here according to Microsoft Research is its ease of use.

At initial launch, the SNARF client will index the user's mail and display three panes of information: mail sent directly or CC'd to the user, mail sent as part of a mailing list, and people mentioned in e-mails sent by the user in the past week.

From there, the user will be able to configure the software to display information as they see fit.

"SNARF was developed for people who have trouble keeping up with their e-mail," Brush says, "but we have found that people who travel often or spend lots of time in meetings may find SNARF particularly helpful. Our studies seem to suggest that SNARF can be useful to help people stay aware of new e-mail."

The first version of the SNARF client is available for download from FileForum.

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