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Suggestions

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Suggestions

Postby bkonia » Fri Jun 16, 2006 9:15 am

I just installed ClearContext and it looks like a pretty cool program. However, after playing around with it for a little whille, I've encountered some limitations which detract from its usefulness for me.

The main issue I have with CC is that it forces you to select a a Topic before you can file a message. I've been using GMail for the past several months and for various reasons, I'd like to migrate back to Outlook. However, one thing I love about GMail is that it allows you to archive messages without forcing you to categorize them. Most of the time, I don't want to have to think about which category a message belongs to. I just want to get it out of my inbox and archive it for future reference. If I want to find the message later, I can use Lookout, which is analogous to the GMail search feature. It would be great if you could make it so that the "File" buttons are always enabled, and if the user doesn't select a Topic, it just files them in a default folder.

I also don't like the fact that you can only assign one Topic to a message. This seems like a strange limitation in what is otherwise a very well thought-out piece of software. It's even more strange given the fact that Outlook already has an excellent category system built-in, which allows you to assign multiple categories to a message. Why not just add an interface to the Outlook categories and file the messages that way? In other words, when you click on the File Message button, a dialog would popup that would allow you to select the Outlook categories that you want assigned to the message. Then, it would file the message in a folder like "ClearContext Filed Messages" and the message would be tagged with the selected Outlook categories.

I don't mean to come across as negative. I think CC is a great piece of software, but I guess I'm kind of spoiled by GMail and I'd like to be able to use a GMail-like workflow in Outlook.
Brad S Konia
bkonia
 
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Joined: Fri Jun 16, 2006 8:50 am

Workarounds

Postby brad » Fri Jun 16, 2006 4:09 pm

Thanks for the feedback. Information like this helps us make our product better. My comments:

For your first suggestion, you could approximate this by creating a generic AutoAssign rule that assigns a generic topic to incoming messages. For example, you could create a rule that looks for "a" in the body and assigns a topic of "Archive." You could then file these messages to ClearContext Topic folder "Archive" using the CC filing buttons. This rule would only apply to messages that do not already have a topic assigned to them - ignoring messages in threads that have a Topic assignment. So, if a message was received and you assigned a topic of "Work" to it, all newly received messages would be assigned "Work" as well (not "Archive"). Hopefully this makes sense.

Your second idea is often requested. We plan to implement the ability to tag multiple topics to a message in a future release. We have not implemented it yet due to some technical and UI hurdles that we need to work through.

Topics are fundamentally different than categories because they apply to message threads rather than individual messages. This is a subtle but powerful feature of the product - saving the need to re-categorize every message as it is received. Many of our customers use Topics to designate projects to groups of messages, while they use categories to denote actions required for that individual message. That said, in our next major release we will include the ability to automatically duplicate Topics into the Category field.

Also, related to what you ask, in the next major release we plan to implement a "Topic Query on Send" option that will ask users to assign a topic to outgoing messages if they have not already done so, ensuring that future messages in the conversation will be assigned this topic and optionally filing the sent message in the associated topic folder.

Personally, I think that ClearContext does provide the opportunity to create a Gmail-like interface for Outlook. In particular, the fact that CC groups threaded conversations together and allows the tagging of conversations rather than individual messages is much the same as Google's interface.

We continue to strive to make ClearContext better and greatly appreciate your thoughts. Please let me know if I can answer additional questions and/or if you have additional feedback.

Take Care.
Brad Meador
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Re: Workarounds

Postby bkonia » Fri Jun 16, 2006 4:55 pm

brad wrote:For your first suggestion, you could approximate this by creating a generic AutoAssign rule that assigns a generic topic to incoming messages. For example, you could create a rule that looks for "a" in the body and assigns a topic of "Archive." You could then file these messages to ClearContext Topic folder "Archive" using the CC filing buttons. This rule would only apply to messages that do not already have a topic assigned to them - ignoring messages in threads that have a Topic assignment. So, if a message was received and you assigned a topic of "Work" to it, all newly received messages would be assigned "Work" as well (not "Archive"). Hopefully this makes sense.


Yes, I had actually figured that out already. The only problem with that strategy is that it doesn't automatically assign the generic topic to new outgoing messages. So you would end up with messages that have no topic assigned, in your sent items folder. I'm not sure if this matters, since I'm not using topics anyway, but I guess the lack of consistency bothers me. For example, what would happen if someone replied to a message you sent and the original message had no topic assigned? Would the reply automatically receive the default topic, or would it have no topic at all and thus be non-fileable?

brad wrote:Topics are fundamentally different than categories because they apply to message threads rather than individual messages. This is a subtle but powerful feature of the product - saving the need to re-categorize every message as it is received.


Yes, I understand that distinction, but why not give the user the option to automatically apply the same set of categories to each new message in a thread?

brad wrote:Many of our customers use Topics to designate projects to groups of messages, while they use categories to denote actions required for that individual message. That said, in our next major release we will include the ability to automatically duplicate Topics into the Category field.


This would be helpful, but I would still like to have an easy way to directly apply multiple categories to a message and have CC automatically apply the categories. Currently, in Outlook, you have to do View -> Options -> Categories, which is not very efficient.

brad wrote:Also, related to what you ask, in the next major release we plan to implement a "Topic Query on Send" option that will ask users to assign a topic to outgoing messages if they have not already done so, ensuring that future messages in the conversation will be assigned this topic and optionally filing the sent message in the associated topic folder.


Again, this would be helpful, but it's still tied to the Topic paradigm, which in my opinion is very limiting. Another problem I encountered with Topics is that there is no easy way to globally rename a topic. This is because the topic of an individual message is not hard-linked to the topic folder containing the message. So if you rename a folder, or if you change the topic of an individual message within a folder, you can end up with a real mess on your hands. With categories, this is not an issue, because categories are not tied to any particular folder. This is analagous to the functionality of GMail labels. You can still use labels like folders if you want, but the "folders" in this case are dynamic and created on-the-fly by search queries.

brad wrote:Personally, I think that ClearContext does provide the opportunity to create a Gmail-like interface for Outlook. In particular, the fact that CC groups threaded conversations together and allows the tagging of conversations rather than individual messages is much the same as Google's interface.


I would agree that of all the Outlook plugins I've tried, CC provides the best approximation of a GMail-like workflow. Actually, NEO is closer, but I don't count NEO because it's not integrated into the Outlook UI. For me, GMail is a very efficient workflow because it doesn't force you to constantly make decisions about where to file things. With the folder paradigm, every time you file an email, you have to make a decision. And since you're only allowed one Topic per email, it's often not an easy decision and you often have to make compromises.

You could easily solve half the problem by simply allowing the user to define a default Topic for any messages that are not explicitly assigned topics. The other half of the problem is admitedly more challenging, but I think it would be well worth the effort involved in at least giving users the option to use a category-based filing system in lieu of the folder-based system.
Brad S Konia
bkonia
 
Posts: 5
Joined: Fri Jun 16, 2006 8:50 am

Postby brad » Mon Jun 19, 2006 1:24 pm

Again, thanks for your comments. To address your specific questions:

For example, what would happen if someone replied to a message you sent and the original message had no topic assigned? Would the reply automatically receive the default topic, or would it have no topic at all and thus be non-fileable?


In the scenario I describe, the received reply would be assigned the default topic and therefore fileable.

Yes, I understand that distinction, but why not give the user the option to automatically apply the same set of categories to each new message in a thread?


As I mentioned earlier, we plan to implement the ability to tag multiple topics to a message in a future release. We have not implemented it yet due to some technical and UI hurdles that we need to work through. I do not have a date estimate at this time for when we will integrate this into the product.

Currently, in Outlook, you have to do View -> Options -> Categories, which is not very efficient.


You are really going to like Outlook 2007's new emphasis on categories. This process is much easier in the forthcoming release.

Another problem I encountered with Topics is that there is no easy way to globally rename a topic.


There are several relatively easy ways to globally change topic assignments:

    Within a folder, Select All, assign a topic and optionally press file to file all messages.
    Within a folder, highlight the messages you want to change and drag them into a new topic folder to reassign.
    Create a search folder that finds all messages with the topic you want assigned, highlight all, change the topic, and optionally file.

You could easily solve half the problem by simply allowing the user to define a default Topic for any messages that are not explicitly assigned topics.


I believe this is solved by the AutoAssign workaround I gave earlier? If Sent items are a problem you can create an Outlook Rule to automatically move Sent items to the folder of your choosing.

The other half of the problem is admitedly more challenging, but I think it would be well worth the effort involved in at least giving users the option to use a category-based filing system in lieu of the folder-based system.


As I mentioned earlier, we are looking into integration of categories and topics, the ability to assign multiple topics to an email thread, and further automation for the organization of sent messages. All of these items fall in line with what you ask. We will continue to post our product plans in these forums and on our weblog as we finalize them.

Thanks for your detailed thoughts on how we can improve ClearContext. We really appreciate your time.
Brad Meador
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Joined: Wed Jun 16, 2004 5:35 pm


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