Cloze Goes Live with Mobile App to Combat E-mail and Social Overload

Got e-mail problems? Tired of trying to keep up with all the latest social-media updates? Then retire and move to Fiji. But if that’s not an option, well, keep reading.

Yes, the race is on to help people better manage their inboxes and contacts, particularly on mobile devices. With this month’s release of Mailbox, the e-mail app from Silicon Valley startup Orchestra, the field is getting a lot more national attention.

But there’s another related app in town. This town. It’s called Cloze, and from what I can tell, it actually has a more ambitious vision than Mailbox. It also just went live in Apple’s app store, so it’s available on iOS devices, with more to come (e.g., Android) in the future.

Cloze, based in Cambridge, MA, at Dogpatch Labs, got started in early 2012. Last April, the company announced a $1.2 million seed round from Greylock Partners, Kepha Partners, and NextView Ventures. The startup has fewer than 10 employees and is focused for now on its app release; if all goes well, it will worry about raising a Series A round later this year.

I met with Cloze founders Dan Foody and Alex Coté (pictured above) last week. The basic idea behind their app is to organize users’ communications around people—not chronology, or topics, or subject lines. More specifically, around the people who matter most to you. Cloze is trying to be a one-stop filter that shows you what your most important contacts are saying, and what you need to pay attention to in the age of information overload.

Each digital relationship you have—between you and a colleague, say—gets a score between 0 and 100. The higher the number, the higher the priority, and it’s continuously updated. The factors that go into Cloze’s relationship scores include: how frequently you communicate with a person; how long since the last message; how quickly you get back to one another; how private your messages tend to be (tweet vs. private e-mail vs. cc’ing 10 people); how many topics you have covered; and how balanced the relationship is (comparing lengths of your respective e-mails, for example).

The app integrates with Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and Exchange e-mail servers, as well as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook social streams. The idea is people can use Cloze on their iPhone or iPad to check their highest-priority messages of any kind on the go, as well as set up lists of people to follow, messages to save for later, and so forth (see screenshot, left). The company has been working on its mobile use case since last fall, and has been building its backend IT infrastructure for over a year.

Coté says Cloze has already analyzed a billion messages—making it yet another “big data” play, this one for communications. The data has helped the team “optimize the most common actions for people,” Foody says.

There have been scores of companies working on somewhat similar-sounding e-mail intelligence or social apps and plug-ins. One key differentiator for Cloze is that it’s optimized for smartphones and tablets without getting too fancy with touchscreen gestures, the founders say. Another is its balance between algorithms and letting users tweak its scoring manually. “You need a mix of those models, so you can adjust it yourself,” Foody says. “Algorithms won’t tell you intent.” At least not quickly enough.

Privacy is an issue with the app, but no more so (in fact, probably much less) than it is with big tech providers like Apple, Google, and Facebook. “We deal with information that’s critical to people, so we take it really, really seriously,” Foody says. In terms of security, all the data is encrypted, as you would expect.

Cloze is free for now. The company says it plans to introduce a freemium revenue model at some point down the road. Its role models for that would include Evernote, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and Box. That’s lofty company to be in. And to get there, Cloze will have to overcome technical challenges around big data (volume of messages and context) and identity (an e-mail address or Twitter handle is not necessarily a person), as well as the inevitable business challenges of gaining adoption and making money as a small company.

In any case, no one is saying it’s a magic bullet for all communications overload. “If you really have 40,000 people you need to reply to, your thumb’s going to fall off,” Coté says.

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