Has it come to this? Do we need corporate CRM tools to manage our individual relationships?
The startup Cloze has launched a utility that scores every relationship you have with your e-mail contacts, based on when and how you communicate with people. The scores look like Klout numbers, but they're personal to you. Cloze uses those scores to rank your people, flagging the top-scorers for followup when you don't respond to their messages. Creepy? Maybe. But fairly handy.
Cloze was designed as a work tool. Founders Dan Foody and Alex Cote said they wanted to create a utility for "outbound professionals" -- like sales people, consultants, and (I guess) journalists. LinkedIn, they said, is too blunt an instrument; it doesn't tell you the strength of your connections. Cloze helps you find people you know from your e-mail archives and then tells you how well you know them. It also shows you what they're up to, grabbing data from Facebook and LinkedIn. And it shows you excerpts from your e-mail history with them.
The tool can also connect you with people you don't know, just as LinkedIn can. But for that feature to work, you have to invite people to join your "inner circle," and then they have to add you back. The friends-of-friends feature here is theoretically useful, but people who get invitations and who don't know what Cloze is (in other words, most people), are not likely to join the system just to add you back. Remember Plaxo?
Cloze is still a useful service, although it is a mixed bag of features. I find it to be a great automatic contact manager and a useful (if incomplete) e-mail archiving service. I haven't spent enough time working with its daily nags -- sorry, alerts -- but I can imagine myself checking in once a day to stave off my pervasive anxiety about falling behind on important e-mails.
Take it with you
One thing the founders did that I find especially valuable is build a service that's designed to keep the most important data you get in your e-mail -- contact information and relationship history -- in your hands no matter what happens to your job. While Cloze does not create a complete archive of your work e-mail, since doing so would be strictly against policy in many companies, it does grab and archive every single connection and relationship you make through e-mail. It keeps snippets only of e-mail messages themselves, and not attachments. So when you move to another job, you don't lose your contact history when your previous employer cuts off your e-mail access. Even when you disconnect Cloze from an e-mail account, you can tell it to keep the data it's imported.
CEO Dan Foody says that, "The average outbound professional stays in their job for four years." And most of these people, he says, are hired based in part on the strengths of their personal networks. Cloze makes keeping those relationships alive easier, and it makes it easier to dive back into your history of connections when you need to.
As a business, Cloze is set up well for a freemium play at some point. It's free now, but Foody and Cote plan to add additional paid features in the future. Technically, though, there are some snags to work out. The Inner Circle feature requires users to build up a new social network, and as I said, that's a tough nut to crack given the social network fatigue people are feeling currently. Also, the service may have scaling problems as it adds users, since it needs to process vast personal e-mail archives to function. This is both computationally- and storage-intensive. Google e-mail users in particular may find their archives added slowly due to throttling features at Google itself.
Verdict: If you can get into the beta, give it a shot. This tool provides a fair bit of utility and requires hardly any input up front to get the return.