Can 0boxer Really Make Achieving Inbox Zero Fun?


Simon took an early look at 0boxer a few weeks ago. It’s an extension for Gmail (s goog) that encourages you to read and archive your messages, rewarding you with points and badges for reaching the mythical “inbox zero.”

0boxer wasn’t operational at the time, but last week I got the chance to put it through its paces.


Currently, 0boxer is only compatible with Gmail running in either Chrome (s goog) or Safari (s aapl). Setup is a breeze: sign into the 0boxer homepage with your Google account, then click to install the appropriate extension for your browser.


Once installed, returning to Gmail in your browser will add a new bar at the top of the interface. This bar provides feedback on the “points” you’re scoring and badges you’re unlocking as you manage your email.

You’ll score points for archiving, replying or opening unread messages; I managed to unlock badges for organizing my email after 2am, getting to an empty inbox for the first time I archived, deleted or marked a message as spam. Strangely, the “First Zero” badge was awarded for clearing my Gmail Priority Inbox, even though there were still unread messages in my regular inbox. This suggests that 0boxer can’t distinguish between priority and regular messages. However, 0boxer is unobtrusive and doesn’t impede your regular use of Gmail.

Does 0boxer make a difference?

There’s been a lot of excitement recently about the potential of game design in revolutionizing everyday life; the emergence of services such as Akoha, Chore Wars and EpicWin underlines this trend. Indeed, the decades old Weight Watchers program is perhaps the most famous example of a points-driven ‘life-as-a-game’.

However, after several days usage of 0boxer, my initial excitement of unlocking rewards and accumulating points had dissipated. The game design of 0boxer is perhaps too weak:

  • There are no hints or tips on improving performance that can alter your behavior. For example,  the service could remind you to answer a message that’s been “sticking” to your inbox for too long.
  • Being awarded a badge is too innocuous. Foursquare sends tweets and emails when achievements are unlocked, 0boxer simply slides in a little Chrome notification.
  • The leaderboard of 0boxer users is meaningless. I don’t know any of those people, it might be better to use Gmail’s address book to compare you to other people you actually know (InboxScore, a service that also makes email usage into a game, allows you to compare your score against other users from your domian, which might be more interesting).

“Serious games” like Weight Watchers are underpinned by some expertise in the users’ psychology that it’s seeking to alter. I’m not sure 0boxer has a sufficient depth of understanding of email usage and best practice to do anything other than amuse. You could happily archive and reply to many messages, accumulating badges and points, without tackling underlying problems of communication management.

I do believe that game design has great potential in productivity, so it’s great to see 0boxer make a start in this area. Perhaps the service will iterate aggressively and produce something truly useful in time. However, I suspect that in the future these kind of capabilities will simply be baked into products and services, like Gmail and Outlook (s msft).

Tell us what you think about 0boxer and points-based productivity games in the comments below.

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