Xoopit Turns Inbox Into a Social Network

Xoopit, a San Francisco-based company, has developed technologies that can turn your GMail (or for that matter, any IMAP email) account into a social environment that is most relevant to you. The company, which also is announcing a new $5 million round of funding from Accel Partners and Foundation Capital, is part of a growing number of startups that view the inbox as the ultimate social network.

As I have argued time and time again, the inbox and the mobile address book are two natural social environments. It’s heartening to see innovators trying to capitalize on simple common sense. Of course, it’s even more delicious that giants who own our inboxes — Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL — are simply twiddling their thumbs.

If you take two of the more popular social networks — Linked In (professional) and Facebook (personal) –- as examples, the amount of email generated by these systems (if you don’t want to spend your entire day logged into them, that is) is astounding. [digg=http://digg.com/programming/Xoopit_Will_Turn_Your_Inbox_Into_a_Social_Network]

So it stands to reason that if you could develop hooks to various social services from within your email inbox, your entire experience would be much easier to manage. This is Xoopit’s approach. It’s launching a Firefox plug-in that basically looks through your GMail and automatically imports information from major photo and video services such as YouTube, Flickr, Kodak, Shutterfly and Picasa Web.

In other words, if you receive a URL link from one of your friends via an email, the photos appear in what’s essentially a gallery view. Similarly, you can share your photo and video galleries with your address book contacts without making your friends go to different sites; simply clicking on a photo rearranges the layout of GMail to offer you the option to share. (Check out the gallery of screenshots.)

Xoopit is basically trying to tame some of the madness that our inboxes have become. As I pointed out in a column published in Business 2.0 last year, we have started to use our inboxes as a digital dumpster into which we dropped everything. What used to be a messaging platform has now become a media-sharing tool. So far my experience with Xoopit has been exemplary and I would highly recommend it to anyone who lives in his or her Google Mail (or Google Apps) inbox.

The company plans to make the service work with other web mail systems, including Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and AOL — as well as the social networks — later this year. Until Xoopit starts to play nice with all email systems, however — desktop and web mail systems — it will only have a partial utility. They need to start thinking beyond Firefox and start worrying about Internet Explorer, which is still a dominant browser.

On the surface, Xoopit looks like a web-services aggregator, but under the hood, the company has developed some core technologies. In fact, Xoopit’s back end is what makes it an interesting company: The more people it signs up, the more compute power it would need to crawl, search and display all the media files.

Although the company’s hardware requirements are susceptible to getting out of whack, CEO Bijan Marashi tells me that it has developed technologies to keep everything ticking, among them a quasi-file system that allows it to easily search and collate the files that reside in email servers. It’s using a search methodology it has developed itself, along with its Hadoop-based back end. Given that most of the early team members have come from Inktomi, I am guessing they know a thing or two about scaling.

If you want to try Xoopit, go here and grab an invite.