Email is at once the bane and boon of the Internet. It’s been around almost as long as the Worldwide Web itself; it’s the original app. Yet it’s also a major source of connection-related headaches for everyone from the average consumer to the power user.
And to that end, finding a way to fix has become the startup dream. The latest to throw its hat in this ring is Contur, a Gmail application that uses its algorithm to divide your inbox into tasks, projects, and other labels depending on their contents. It’s a very heightened and refined version of what Gmail does itself with Priority Inbox, which essentially does more junk mail filtering for you; other labeling is all on you.
The Contur team is three strong, two Microsoft veterans — Justyna Wojcik and Bruno Denuit — and Stanford Business graduate Herry Lian. Lian tells me that the three of them has personally experienced the trouble with email (no surprise there) and felt like they had a viable way to fix it.
Lian describes Contur as a cross between Asana’s Inbox and Sanebox, two very enterprise-focused applications. So what can Contur do differently? I, like every overwhelmed email user (is there any other kind) have tried a handful of tools that are prescribed to help reach the legend of inbox zero, to little or no avail. “People just end up going back to their email,” says Lian. “You can’t use two applications to manage your daily tasks, so people just revert. Our inspiration was why not bring all this into Gmail and people can just use their one central hub. It’s minimal work for the user and means you spend less time organizing and more time executing.”
Using a keyword algorithms to segment inbox content isn’t exactly an original content; we all know how Google gets its ideas for those sidebar ads by now, right? But Lian tells me Contur is using that data a little differently toward its labeling and grouping efforts. “We take the technoogy of scanning through to find keywords but we match keywords differently,” he says. “For example, we have a client that was planning a business trip to Asia and we were able to see words like ‘Beijing,’ ‘trip,’ ‘Asia,’ and so we grabbed all those and put them in project called ‘Asia Trip’ and we did it with 90 percent accuracy. A few slipped through, it’s not perfect yet, but he was just absolutely amazed.”
It certainly is a valiant effort: Something clearly needs to be done when people start talking about “Inbox Zero” like its the holy grail. The idea of spinning the contents of your email account into a virtual workbench where messages, tasks, and projects are clearly designated and easily accessible — and more importantly, lead to taking action — is a lot to chew off. But certainly spinning itself as a Gmail app versus its own proprietary service is a smart bet… because as much as we love to complain about the hold email has on us, that death grip isn’t going anywhere.
Contur is launching its private beta today, and the first 500 Digital Trends readers to visit the site and use the invitation code “DT” will get early access.