Etacts Builds What I Want

I love it when I write about something I need and some developer out there builds it. It happens all the time and it never ceases to amaze me.

This week it happened as a result of my email bankruptcy post. I wrote this in that post:

I have a list of about thirty people who I email with regularly and who are my most important email relationships. I use two web services, Gist and Etacts, to tell me who these people are. Both are useful. I then do gmail searches on their names and make sure that I have no unread and unarchived emails from them. It would be great if one or both of these services could auto-generate a gmail search on all thirty addresses for me. It would be even better if gmail had this feature built into the service.

The team at Etacts read the post and added the exact feature I wanted. I've got the Etacts browser plugin in Chrome and this is what my gmail sidebar looks like now.


Two of those links were inserted by Etacts, the "awaiting reply" link and the "unread from top contacts" link. I don't use the "awaiting reply" functionality in Etacts but the "unread from top contacts" is going to be so huge for me. A couple times a day, I have time for five or ten minutes of email and what I want to see is any incoming email from my top contacts. This Etacts link does exactly that for me. 

What is even more awesome is that the definition of top contacts is not hard wired. It will change over time as my email behavior changes. Maybe we sell one of our portfolio companies. That team may fall off of my top thirty list. Maybe we make a new investment. That team may rise onto my top thirty list. So cool.

Thanks Etacts for doing this. You made my week.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    It’s fully automated? Or can you manually lock GGal, Albert, and Brad in the list? πŸ™‚

    1. Eric Leebow

      Jim, I’ve got Zemanta installed. It overlays the others. Would be interesting to have them all work together better.

    2. howie liu

      Fully automated right now. Open to suggestions on how you’d like to modify or lock certain people into the list.

  2. DGentry

    Would you also be interested in letting those 30 people (or a even more trusted subset) curate and/or bump the importance of other email in your inbox? Presumably letting them actually read your email would be unacceptable, so the curation would need to take some other form.(The simplest solution is likely the way we do it now, by way of introduction or fowarding emails).

  3. DGentry

    It would be interesting to know if this changes the behavior of people who send email to you. For those who suspect they might drop off the list, it creates an incentive to keep sending you frequent emails.

  4. sigmaalgebra

    Cool, Fred: You got just what you wanted.Now, for another billion e-mail users with some millions of different things they want?My proposed solution: (1) Have e-mail stored in a simple-minded format, e.g., one directory (‘folder’) for each e-mail message sent or received. (2) Have a basic user interface. (3) Have everything clear and easy to understand so that end users can in an hour or so use a simple programming language to get whatever ad hoc things they want.Much of the potential here is because e-mail is still ‘simple network mail protocol’ (SNMP) and ‘post office protocol 3’ (POP3), and these are well documented in the relevant Internet ‘requests for comments’ (RFCs) and are dirt simple. E.g., to send or receive e-mail, just use some TCP/IP ‘socket’ calls where the programming is much like just reading or writing to a file. Dirt simple.Then nearly all e-mail programs cover over and obscure the simplicity and, in the case of Outlook, make it from difficult to impossible to get the actual e-mail message as it was sent or received.E.g., with my e-mail system, nearly everywhere else in my work given one token on one line, one keystroke would show me the e-mail message associated with the token. The token I used was just the ‘Date:’ line in the e-mail header, but other ‘keys’ could also work. Significance? I organize work by ‘projects’ with each project having its own directory (‘folder’) in the file system. Then within that directory, the ‘tokens’ give me ‘cross-references’ to the e-mail. So, within that project, I have ready access to the e-mail crucial for that project.Of course would also want cross-references to tweets, etc.Of course more could be done.And the idea of end-user programming does generalize to some extent: I mean, we teach introductory programming in middle school now, right? So, when they grow up they can’t program anymore and have to wait for someone else to give them what they want? Bummer.Right: I am saying that to a significant extent, the Xerox PARC cognitive psychologists’ paradigm of a ‘graphical user interface’ with ‘direct manipulation’ is (also!) bankrupt. We can’t let the GUI stuff keep us from getting our hands on the simple data, doing some simple manipulations, and getting the information we need for our work.Indeed, to a large extent, we have shrunk the potential variety of GUI to just a Web browser and HTML. So, we are back to a ‘dumb’ terminal where ‘dumb’ now means that the terminal is well defined. So, all the users are good with HTML displays because all the Web sites use it; all the Web sites use it because all the users are good with it. HTML is so simple that over a billion people can go to any of over 100 million Web sites and understand right away while, say, getting good with the GUIs of Outlook or Word, all the really obscure right clicks, menus eight levels deep, etc., can take days, weeks, …. So, net, what’s really useful about GUI has converged to just HTML. GOOD.

    1. SF

      for your pains, I recommend mutt, pine, or elm email clients. And remember “”All mail clients suck. This one just sucks less.” from pedantry and obnoxiousness… I think you lost me at “because e-mail is still ‘simple network mail protocol’ (SNMP) ” … since SNMP is “simple network management protocol” and email sending has always being SMTP. (simple mail transfer protocol)cheers.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        The key point I am making is how to get the millions of cases of ad hoc functionality a billion e-mail users want, where Fred’s problem is one example.As Fred’s example helps make clear, just cannot hope to have an existing e-mail client provide those millions of cases of functionality. So, Fred got what he wanted but only by some custom software written by someone else.My solution: Have the basic e-mail system, that is, how the data is stored, be so simple that end users can easily write custom software for whatever ad hoc functionality they want.That’s just what I did for 11 years; it worked GREAT; and I may yet just enhance it to handle Web pages and return to it and, thus, dumpster any other e-mail clients.For nine years before that, I did something similar that also worked great. So, before I encountered the disaster of a GUI e-mail client, I had had 20 years of easy to use and easy to program e-mail. I conclude: Outlook style GUI e-mail clients have a brain-dead architecture and are a disaster.Or, what I would want to know most of all about another e-mail client is how it stores the e-mail so that I can easily write my own ad hoc software to manipulate it. And a big problem with Outlook 2003 is that it puts the e-mail in PST files where essentially the only access is via Outlook. Bummer.For my proposal, it is important to crucial that e-mail actually, at its base in SMTP and POP3, be so simple. So, it is important that I mention SMTP and POP3.Yes, I agree that e-mail clients “suck”. For me, next time I scream at Outlook, I’m writing my own e-mail software.For SMTP and SNMP, I’ve worked heavily with both and sometimes in fast typing exchange them.

        1. ShanaC

          Probably, probably…

  5. Eric Leebow

    I was wondering what happens as you add more plugins to gmail, and sometimes they overlap each other. Right now I’ve got Rapportive and Zemanta, and then just installed Etacts (which I previously had installed). I’m wondering if there could be any interoperability between Etacts and Rapportive, or does Etacts just provide the same? Yes and No… Is it best to choose one or the s it one or the other? What will happen when Gist comes out with its mail plugin (considering they do), will you continue to use Etacts? It’s interesting to see as more of these plugins come out, it’s kind of like Chrome or Firefox extensions.

    1. howie liu

      Etacts doesn’t just provide social data on the people in your inbox (which Rapportive also does), but also does the following:1) Allows you to set a reminder to stay in touch with someone. E.g. I want to stay in touch with Eric Leebow every 2 months. Now Etacts will send me a reminder if I don’t email/call you for 2 months.2) Pulls in all your recent conversations across email and phone (and soon Fb/twitter/linked) organized around person. In our gmail plugin (as well as you can see your recent calls, texts, and emails to a person.These all fit into our big vision of reorganizing all your communications (not just email, but also phone, fb, etc.) around people–and turning them into relationships, not just individual, fragmented messages.We’re also integrating some other major features so keep posted!I really like the Rapportive guys btw, they’re nice folks–and I wish the best of luck to them!

      1. Eric Leebow

        Thanks for your reply, Howie! Etacts really is an interesting service, how it provides the contact update and reminders. Now, I can email someone and followup easily. It’s kind of like built into your email, as well it provides reminders on the actual Etacts site. I’m working on launching an up and coming social networking site for college students and alumni, FreezeCrowd. Definitely believe my site could be integrated in the future. Looking forward to hearing about your updates! Keep up the great work.

  6. Tereza

    I’d like to lose 10 lbs.Wish I could snap my fingers and someone could do it for me, for free.Ah to conjure your wishes is a beautiful thing.

    1. Mark Essel

      Fred’s gonna get spoiled at this rate πŸ™‚

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Regular yoga practice 4-6 times per week.There! You just learned the secret to maintaining whatever body weight your body needs to be at. πŸ™‚

      1. Tereza

        Did that….before I had kids.Who has time now?In her bio, Gotham Gal says that if there were a pill to take in place of exercise she would do it. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!Anyway I’m not actually weight obsessed. Just trying to get a chuckle.

        1. DGentry

          Chuckle duly supplied.

      2. Tereza

        Did that….before I had kids.Who has time now?In her bio, Gotham Gal says that if there were a pill to take in place of exercise she would do it. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!Anyway I’m not actually weight obsessed. Just trying to get a chuckle.

        1. ShanaC

          There are medications that as side effects will cause you to lose weight (in significant amounts), but you don’t want to be taking them. Trust me.

          1. Tereza

            Believe me, I’m not into that stuff!

          2. ShanaC

            I doubt it, that is not to say it doesn’t exist. Note that I have very dry,very wry humor.

        2. Matt A. Myers

          Get your kids into yoga (depending on their age…). Some studios now have yoga for kids classes at same time as regular ones.And I know you were just joking. πŸ™‚

          1. Tereza

            Oh, they love it. They have it in school.It’s the 1:35 4-6 days a week that simply does not fit in my life right now. Plus the nearest one is a 20-min car ride from my house. Serious time suck.My current strategies are the ole park on the opposite side of the lot trick, and use the stairs. That kind of stuff. Also, hiking with a 40-lb kid on your back is pretty hard, I’ve found. Especially when they start kicking. πŸ™‚

  7. Marcin

    Kind of cool, considering the fact that I gave them the idea. Now, why I never get paid for that?

    1. Mark Essel

      Our ideas are cheap, it’s implementing, marketing, and maturing the product that takes real effort. How many bad ideas do you have a day? I have plenty, and I can only build a couple prototypes at a time. It’s the selection of which ideas to implement and executing that makes $$Keep on coming up with good (and bad) ideas but execute the best yourself

      1. Marcin

        Yes and No. Execution is the key, but sometimes the idea is ingenious. Not that this was the case πŸ˜‰

        1. Mark Essel

          Fair enough those super simple to implement ideas, if only we thought of them firstbut copycats can replcate those features fast

          1. Marcin

            Well, in that case I thought about it first, emailed Etacts founders and they implemented it within 24hrs.

          2. howie liu

            Marcin–which idea are you talking about? Happy to give credit but I think Fred originally suggested this one?

          3. Marcin

            In the 2nd email – told you to keep everything within gmails layout, without taking user anywhere. But maybe you were already working on it then – the credit goes to Fred in that case πŸ™‚

          4. howie liu

            Ah gotcha. We’re actually still working on that particular one–getting Awaiting Reply to integrate directly in Gmail (it’s not ready yet).Seriously though–thanks for all the feature suggestions, they’re really valuable and I appreciate your help!! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to be of help.

  8. Mark Essel

    Now I’m thinking, you may not have asked for enough. I’d like to see how far your expressed desire for practical social tools can go.Cast those dice Freddy, and really inspire some top gnotch experts to chew into a difficult but perhaps incredibly rewarding problem.I’ve tucked away the permission based messging system addon idea for a rainy day.Just a heads up, you realize by opting for an algorithmic solution you’ve chosen a machine instead of a human filter.

  9. Elie Seidman

    As one of the resident Windows 7/Outlook/Exchange/Blackberry Luddites, I can’t resist saying that these are all features of Outlook circa 8 years ago.That being said, very cool – and obviously needed – addition to Gmail. Now if only I could sort the columns?

  10. dwightk

    That’s pretty cool, but sticking with the inbox zero philosophy makes it less necessary

    1. Chris Hunt

      I’m with this – zero inbox.That seems insane to me……I’m not suggesting you read it all yourself. Employ someone to filter it for you. Get it put into categories and delegate.~Chris

  11. Taylor Brooks

    Etacts is an awesome tool, but they store your Gmail password. I’m sure it’s fine with 256 bit whateverthehell encryption, but there’s no way I’m giving a third-party company the opportunity to store my password on their server.

    1. Kurt

      I just signed up and it used Oauth, no password required.

      1. Peter Clark

        yeah. etacts were the first company to launch with the oauth gmail stuff, i believe.

  12. Adam

    Xobni, the best thing to happen to Outlook, well ever.

    1. ErikSchwartz

      The best thing to happen to Outlook is to never start using it so you don’t have the pain of migrating off of it later.

      1. Jose Paul Martin

        Totally! Outlook should be banned from offices (and MS Office) for reducing productivity levels. Ever since I’ve migrated to gmail… life has been smooth sailing (almost)! I just wish my IT department felt the same…

  13. ckstevenson

    Why are you surprised that you as an extremely well known VC would get things custom made for you? You could probably start requesting totally ridiculous features in products and companies would do it just to get your attention.Also, you could have accomplished this on your own with some very simple tweaks to Gmail via filters. You needed to just add a filter for the people you find the most important, and then put those emails into a specific tag or the Star. Not as elegant a solution, but would have quickly gotten you 80% of the way there.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Time is money. If it takes more than 5 seconds to do, delegate it to someone else. πŸ™‚

    2. Scott Gatz

      I think the important thing here is that it is dynamic and changes over time. a filter for a group of people is static, but based on projects people come in and out of importance for me, so I think what they’ve done is awesome and something I’ve wanted to see for a while. Now if only they did that for more than gmail.

    3. obscurelyfamous

      That’s a cynical way of looking at it. It’s also true that a well known power user and blogger, regardless of VC, could solicit some excellent feedback from his audience.Disqus milks this community for ideas all the time.

      1. David Semeria


      2. ckstevenson

        I’m not really sure what I wrote that was cynical. I don’t distrust anyone involved, I don’t doubt Fred’s intentions. I just think he’s perhaps being a little naive to not realize/believe that when he opines “I wish someone would make a red colored theme of my blog” that some tech company out there will gladly do so to get his attention. And good for them for doing so.And if it helps us all out in the end, doubly better. Scoble Tweets at Wibiya about their toolbar adding Buzz and BOOM, done in a few hours.

        1. obscurelyfamous

          Just joking about the cynical part. πŸ™‚

          1. ckstevenson

            I guess I need more green tea or something. Gotcha.

    4. howie liu

      Happy to listen to yours, or any of our other users’ feature requests as well ; )

  14. Peter Van Dijck

    Nice. Can they build an attachment browser as well into Gmail? Something like this

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      Not exactly that, but you should check It can do something very similar and a few more useful things.

    2. howie liu

      Are you looking for something that has Xoopit’s functionality?

  15. ShanaC

    Hmm, I’m feeling a need, for email speed…

  16. howie liu

    Happy to listen to yours, or any of our other users’ feature requests as well ; )

  17. carolecopelandthomas

    Glad that your problem was resolved so quickly. Hope my two emails that I sent to you today won’t get locked into your spam folder.I will continue to enjoy reading your blog.

  18. Jason Preston

    I am doing a similar thing in my mail with Mac Mail smart folders, just have a list of people where if email is “from” them, it goes into my “i like you best” folder. Very useful.Zero inbox is not my mindset, I am 100% inbox (nothing ever leaves my inbox except spam). I use search and smart folders to navigate.BTW, when I log in to comment via Twitter, it fills the comment form with your user survey, and I can’t comment.

  19. Seenator

    I nearly signed up and then I stopped when they asked my permission to access my Gmail account. I would have normally said yes but I lost all my blackberry contacts yesterday because of the Facebook blackberry App (when you delete the DB app on Bberry, it deletes your contact so be careful!) and then I didn’t want to risk that happening to my email.Email is now my memory. Its unimaginable how Gmail & Email have become an extended part of my brain. I decided not to have an external app accessing my brain no matter how much it supercharges my brain. Any software that accesses my email/phone better be FDA approved…A rant- the FB app deletes your blackberry App and there is not one (NOT ONE) official blog response from FB or Blackberry on how to fix that even though so many people are struggling with this issue:

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      Wow, I didn’t know about that Facebook/Blackberry problem. Thanks forsharing. I don’t use the app a lot because it is very slow, but I won’tdelete it, just in case… My BB contacts are synced with my Gmail contacts,and then with my GApps contacts, and then with my Yahoo contacts and MSNcontacts… I guess I would be able to stop it before it propagates, butjust thinking about it scares me!By the way, I used to think like you about giving my Gmail credentials.However, lately I’m starting to be more open about that. I won’t give themto everyapp, but yes to a select few. If you think about it, we are alreadyputting our brain into Google’s hands. I know they are trust worthy (arethey? really?) but we are not in control already. If we really want to keepit ours we should run our own email server, in our own physical server.Maybe opening data to a few selected companies is safer than keepingeverything looked behind the same door… or maybe not.

  20. Harry Love

    I’m guessing you probably don’t waste time sifting through Gmail’s spam list, either. Here’s how to automatically send your spam to the trash (and never see another annoying, attention-grabbing notification):1. Create a filter2. Has the words: β€œis:spam” (without quotes)3. Next step4. Say OK to the warning message5. Check β€œDelete it”6. Create Filter

  21. Dave Pinsen

    It’s an interesting solution, though perhaps not an EPIC one.

  22. anshul__gupta

    These guys in Microsoft have become a bit lazy now a day…

  23. Josh Gordon

    is anyone else having a problem installing etacts plugin? getting stuck with the crx extension πŸ™ tried following the online google results for running crx (adding “–enable-extensions”) to chrome code, but no luck. any suggestions?

  24. MikeSchinkel

    I love the thought of being able to minimize email down to the more important people, but I think limiting it to only the people one emails most only works for people who are always being sold to and not those who are selling, and it doesn’t work for those people who need to make sure if someone they’ve gotten a favor from contacts them for a favor in return.For me some of my most important emails to see and respond to are people I rarely communicate with via email, like the person who I’m trying to get to buy something I’m selling. As a organizer, I also want to be open to other organizers in case they need my help because they’ve probably helped me in the past.So for me it would be people I have emailed recently and people on a specific “whitelist” of important people which I could be classify the first time I email them.

  25. John Fleming

    Etacts is on the definitely on right track combining contact and conversation management