Monday, March 5, 2012

Please Send Me Your Updated Contact Information

I started seeing a chiropractor recently. When I created the contact for them in my Google account, I opened the chiropractor's website and entered in all the data I could find: phone, fax, address, website, email, company name, anything I could find. Then, three weeks later, I had to update the address in my contacts because they relocated. And that was annoying!

I have 785 contacts in my Google account. On a cursory glance at the first 20, at least 5 of them were either entirely out-of-date, contained inaccurate or old information, or were for people I don't even recall adding. The data in those contacts wasn't always stale and incorrect, but people change phone numbers, employers, addresses, and emails.

As I was fixing the chiropractor's contact details, a thought came to mind. I am making a duplicate copy of the chiropractor's contact details. The original is with the chiropractor themselves. My programmer brain said to me, "Why don't you just link to the existing data rather than create your own copy? It's just reference data." Just at that moment, I attempted to log into Stackoverflow and was redirected to the Google 3rd-party authentication page. And I realized, "This is it." Use something like OAuth, but for contacts. Let me subscribe to a person's contact details. They can manage that with whatever site they want. Facebook and Google+ offer this sort of management with lists and circles, respectively. But don't make me use these sites. Make it an open protocol that any site can implement. Then I can just put in an email address and BOOM I am subscribed (the domain of the email can be the key for what site to check).

I suppose that Google+ and Facebook are sort of trying to do this. If you friend someone on Facebook, and if that person keeps their contact details up-to-date on Facebook, and you use some service to connect Facebook to your contact list (Android offers this natively, I assume iOS and WP7 have similar tools), you can approximate the behavior I'm looking for. But it's kind of a hack; specific APIs and whatnot.

webfinger is much closer to what I'm thinking about, but it lacks the privacy controls natively (as far as I can tell). Also, it's probably too neckbeard for widespread adoption.

Really, this is a pet peeve of mine more than a serious issue. But the technology exists to make contact management really simple. Let's do it.

I have no fun images or quotes for this post. I apologize. Here is a funny image I made to describe to my boss what the future looks like:

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