Sunday, May 13, 2007

Contacts Management System

Email and electronic address-books have been around for decades now. So, I am quite surprised that we still don't have a truly functional contacts management system (CMS), which uses the full power of the Internet.

A well-implemented contact management system should eliminate the need for us to ever remember anybody's phone number or weirdly-spelled email address. We should be able to contact people just by looking up their name. It should also eliminate the need for us to ever enter anybody's contact information into our address-books. The information would be automatically available to us, provided the person wants to share it with us.

There is a huge market of users waiting for anybody who implements a good contacts management system. This is truly a big untapped opportunity. I am surprised that nobody has already done this yet.

Here are five most important features that a good modern contacts management system should have:

1. The CMS should be a web-based database, built on a data-sharing model and it would be search-able. The web-based nature of the system should allow it to be accessible from any browser, running on any device. The data-sharing model would allow you to instantly share your contact information with others, instead of them having to get it from you and add it manually into their address-books.

2. The CMS should define a standard for storing, retrieving and updating contacts information so that it can be accessed using any application, on any device, which needs address-book functionality. Imagine being able to use a single address-book on all your email clients (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.), all your web-based email systems (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), on your mobile phone, home phone and any other place where you need an address-book. Imagine buying a new cell phone, logging into the CMS system using the phone and all your contacts being immediately available in the new phone, without your having to add them individually or import them from your old phone!

3. The CMS should not only be available online, it should also be download-able to the device or application of your choice. Further, the downloaded copy should have two-way synchronization with the online copy. Imagine being able to add or update information into the address-book on your phone, and the same update being propagated to all the copies of your address-book on all your devices and email systems.

4. Strictly speaking, there should be no need for you to update or add the contact details of any other person. You should only need to update your own contact information, and everybody else updates only their own information. The CMS gives everyone the ability to share their personal contact information with all the people who matter to them. Further, it also gives you flexibility on what pieces of information you want to share with whom. For example, you can define groups such as 'friends', 'family', 'colleagues' in your CMS. Then, you can choose to share your home phone number and home address only with 'family', your personal email address and mobile phone number with 'friends', your office phone number and business address with 'colleagues', and so on. You should even be able to choose what pieces of information you want to share with specific individuals - not just groups. Imagine not having to add all the contact details of your hundred or more friends, into your address-book. Imagine not having to ever give anybody your business card - all you do is add them to the 'business contacts' group in your CMS, and they will instantly have access to your contact information on their own address-books!

5. The CMS should give you the ability to 'push' your contact information updates out to people of your choosing. Suppose, you get a new phone number. Today, you have to email your new phone number to all your friends and family, and each person has to manually update their address-books. With the CMS, all you'd do is update your phone number just once on the CMS and then click a button to 'push' or propagate this new number to all the people who have your old number in their address-books. You should even be able to choose not to 'push' the update to certain people. And people who receive your updates would have the ability to accept or reject it. This way, your latest contact information is always available to people with whom you want to share it. Nobody ends up with out-of-date information because somebody inadvertently forgot to keep them updated with changed phone numbers or addresses.

Needless to say, a CMS with all the above features would become a massive global directory. More importantly, it would also have information about how people are networked, their relationships, etc. Imagine the potential! Whoever develops such a system could become a billionaire!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Google Reader

If there are websites you like to check out frequently, and you visit each of them individually to look for new content, then you are wayyy behind the times. You are just not doing it right!

Recently, I gave a small presentation about RSS at my office, and here's what I had to say:
Imagine that when your friends want to send you an email, they compose the email and then keep it in their own mail box. They don't send it to your mail box. Then, when you want to check your emails, imagine that you have to visit each of your friend's mail boxes to see if they have left any mails for you. That's just a very inefficient and backwards way of doing things, isn't it? Yet, this is exactly how we access information on the Internet. We go to different websites individually, and check if there is information there which might be of interest to us.

This is where RSS technology and RSS Readers come into the picture. Google calls its RSS Reader, "Your inbox to the web." It literally is. I have been using Google Reader for the past few months, and I am absolutely hooked. It helps me go through a lot of content very quickly. Of course, I give more time and attention to some content, than to others. Nevertheless, the amount of information I eyeball in a short period of time is just insane. I could never peruse so much information without my favorite Reader.

To subscribe to this blog's feed and open Google Reader at the same time, click here.

Here's a previous post on this blog about RSS: Web Feeds and Feed Readers.

Here's a a 10-minute video tutorial on using Google Reader (but seriously you could learn how to use it in lesser time on your own!):