Social Skills For Address Books
Most of the time, I review just-released products. Today, I'm writing about a product that doesn't exist yet, and may never: an address-book program that would update its records when your friends update their own entries on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn.
The components that would be necessary to build such a thing exist already. The major social networks are rolling out initiatives and frameworks that will let other Web sites and programs connect to them and share data -- see, for instance, LinkedIn's API (Application Programming Interface) and Facebook Connect.
And a couple of weeks ago, a free plug-in for Microsoft's Outlook, Xobni, began using LinkedIn's API to tie into that network -- install this add-on and anytime the sender of an e-mail has a public profile on LinkedIn, you'll see his or her title, employer and (if available) photo in the Xobni sidebar.
That got me thinking. People have been wrestling with the task of keeping address books current for years, using add-on services like Comcast's Plaxo or simply copying and pasting information from e-mails and Web sites into their contacts lists. And yet the most up-to-date sources of contact information for most of the people I talk to are their pages on these social networks. Why can't an address book subscribe to their updates, in the same way that a calendar program can subscribe to an iCalendar feed? Why, instead, are we limited to downloading somebody's vCard file from LinkedIn or using difficult and unreliable hacks like this fellow's desperate attempt to copy friends' phone numbers and e-mail addresses from Facebook?
Such a thing is possible but not necessarily probable. For one thing, Microsoft's Outlook, with its dominant share of the business, sluggish pace of updates and lack of effective competition, has become a boat anchor for the entire category of address-book software in the Windows market. So all I could do in today's column is endorse the idea, then warn of one way in which it might be implemented badly.
My own track record at persuading the tech industry to do things is not all that great, but perhaps it would help if you all chimed in. Would you like to see this kind of address-book feature? What else do you want your next contacts manager to do?
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