Thursday, October 18, 2007

Social address books

Over the last few months or so, Silicon Valley has finally cottoned on to the power of the address book. They've figured out that social networking sites are really glorified address boooks.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was the first to really get it - his term is the social graph, an online resource of people and relationships between them. He turned this data on people and their relationships into an online platform, and allowing third parties to access it has turned out to be an incredible success.

The logic of Google's purchase of GrandCentral and Jaiku, not to mention Myspace's deal with Skype, points firmly in the same direction.

After all, the most important thing in our lives is our relationships with other people and with the communities we belong to. These relationships are what drives us, what makes us laugh or cry, what makes our lives rewarding or successful. Any tool that helps us maintain and develop these relationships is incredibly valuable - the address book was the start, and social networking is another advance.

Currently, everything is tailored around the technology: we have a paper address book for house addresses, an email contacts list for email addresses, a phone address book for phone numbers, an IM address book for IM addresses, etc.

Let's focus on people instead; it's far more natural! So there should be just one address book, integrated with all of these technologies. I could find my sister's homepage, and click to call her, text her, or email her, all within the same application.

That's just the start, because the details for each contact should be maintained by them, rather than me. So I could also look up the friends of my friends, or where they are today. I could post messages, or pictures to my address book entry, to keep everyone up to date. So could anyone else!

And I could create an organization home page, linking all the people into it and giving them immediate access to common photos, documents, and chat.

There are several themes here

  • Extra data: friends of friends, communities
  • Convergence of communications methods into a single web application
  • Convergence of collaboration and communication - the social network IS my photo editing application

Initially, I thought social networks had a touch of "fad". In fact, they're the next great phase in software: applications that enrich our relationships. And that can only be a good thing!

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