Plugins for Microsoft Outlook – ClearContext

12 01 2008

It was just a short year ago that I really started to look for Outlook plugins that might make email management a little easier. Within the last few weeks I have found three. I didn’t dig into the history of each one of them enough to know how long they had been around but I’m guessing that the availability of Office 2007 has something to do with it.

Below I am going to give my opinion of one plugin, ClearContext. The next two will be covered in separate posts.

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The first plugin I tried is ClearContext

From my experience, the idea behind ClearContext is to organize your email into categories or stages. In doing so the messages can be automatically filed away, deferred, delegated or turned into a task or calendar entry. Once an email has been categorized a dashboard view is available which allows a look at all messages, tasks or calendar entries for the project.

ClearContext does a lot of things right. The options available to you from when composing or reading a message are many, and are truly valuable. These include things like creating a task from the message or showing a related view which opens a window showing all messages within the category of the message you are viewing.

Unfortunately there are a few shortcomings that ultimately led me to uninstall ClearContext in search of an alternative. The first of these was that I could only place a message in a single category or stage. Ideally a message should be able to live in multiple categories without creating multiple copies of the message. The next issue was with the dashboard. While this idea is great, the execution is lacking. The dashboard is simply not as well organized or as functional as it needs to be. The last issue was how the messages auto categorize. If I categorize a message with a subject of “Sales Reports” to the “2007 4th QTR” category each message received with the same subject is also placed in that category. There are many instances when this simply won’t apply and will have to be worked around by resending the message to myself with an updated subject. This equals more work and defeats the purpose.

If these few shortcoming can be resolved (and they have certainly been mentioned by others in the ClearContext forums) this will be a very strong plugin.

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6 responses

13 01 2008
Deva Hazarika

Chuck,

Thanks for the writeup. The three items you mention happen to be key areas we’ve been working on making enhancements to the existing functionality.

The dashboard functionality is relatively basic by design. We wanted to address the core request by many of our users to provide a consolidated view of related information across the various silos in Outlook – messages, appointments, tasks, etc. Since that release, we’ve gotten tons of great feedback about the different ways people want to use the dashboard and we’re working on lots of improvements to make it as broadly useful as possible.

We’re investigating a few different options for more flexible categorization of messages. Potential options include types of tagging capabilities and more flexible usage of the native Outlook category functionality. A big part of our work here is to make sure that whatever we do maintains a simple and efficient user interface to maintain high productivity as well as on the technical side maintaining very high performance.

Finally, on the threading and auto-categorization, we’re looking into additional ways to link message threads together that will allow for more automated handling of scenarios such as multiple threads being linked together and single threads forking into different topics. Again, keeping a simple and highly efficient process flow and maintaining high performance are key considerations in what we do here.

We’ll be releasing information about our upcoming betas in the next few weeks. Stay tuned, I think you’ll find the new developments very interesting!

13 01 2008
anoccasionalinterruption

Deva – Thanks for commenting! This is great information. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on ClearContext and look forward to trying the next release.

14 01 2008
Plugins for Microsoft Outlook - Taglocity « an occasional interruption

[...] for Microsoft Outlook – Taglocity 14 01 2008 I mentioned previously that a big drawback to the Outlook plugin ClearContext, for me, was the inability to place a [...]

27 01 2009
bacarli

chuck, thanks! i was looking up clearcontext and I found your blog. Do you have any opinions on Outlook Track-It? I just downloaded this, and it’s been amazing so far. My favorite feature is the e-mail followup reminder (reminds you the user, and others to follow up).

26 10 2010
Jimlee

Thanks for your tip, I tried it and it seems really interesting! Beside this I like almost every plugin which make working with Outlook easier! At the moment I’m trying Lookeen and it seems very promising too, maybe you wanna take a look at it: http://www.lookeen.net

18 12 2011
idontwant1

I too tried and had to uninstall ClearContext, but my ONLY reason for this was its inability to work with IMAP. People who are looking for this type of solution are I would think generally overworked, overemailed individuals looking for an automated virtual inbox assistant. These people are traveling, working from home and using sometimes 3-4 devices to check and respond to e-mail with between company laptops, home ipads, and mobile phones. To limit me to one device is reason alone to disregard ClearContext until they offer support for IMAP. Right now it only works for POP which doesn’t cut it for me.

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