I have recently come to the conclusion that the future of the address book is in the social realm… and likely includes the cloud.
The big announcement yesterday was that Microsoft will incorporate more social-ness in Outlook, first with LinkedIn (TechCrunch post). Here is the news from LinkedIn and the announcement from the Microsoft Outlook team. Outlook will integrate LinkedIn profiles with Outlook contacts, including activity feeds, profile pictures, and direct links to LinkedIn profiles.
The Microsoft Outlook team actually went above and beyond just integrating LinkedIn, and created a framework for any social network to integrate with Outlook. The framework is called the Outlook Social Connector. In the future, any social network or service should be able to integrate with Outlook in similar ways. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook integration announced next.
The social-ness in Outlook isn’t a new concept. Xobni has for a while offered an interesting Outlook add-in that integrates LinkedIn and Facebook (among other services). WebWorkerDaily recently had a post about making Outlook more social.
As I stated at the beginning, I think the future of the address book lies with social networks and online services. Xobni and Outlook Social Connector are just the beginning of a major trend (on the desktop). But mobile address books have already started integrating online services.
The Palm Pre was the first mobile device to tightly integrate social networks and online services. It’s Synergy feature integrates information from Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail, Google Contacts, online calendars, and instant messaging services. See here for a good screenshot of a “linked contact”. And here’s Palm’s description of the feature(s) (there are a lot of good pictures on that page):
Pre uses the Palm® Synergy™ feature to bring your Microsoft® Office Outlook®, Google™, Yahoo!, and Facebook® calendars together for one logical view of your day. And if you have contacts stored in those places or on LinkedIn®, Pre can pull in each person’s information and combine it under one entry, making it easier to find what you need.
ArsTechnica has a great article looking at the Synergy feature and the ability to pull contacts and other information into the phone. The CEO of Funambol (a mobile sync solution that I use) thinks that Synergy is the killer feature and has this to say:
But then I added my Facebook account and the magic started. My friends appeared on my contact list with pictures. Where possible, the app merged my Facebook and Gmail contacts (I guess using their email or cell phone or name). Visually, it reminds you if a contact is merged, because you see the contact picture in a deck (easy to see than to explain). You can remove the link, or add a link to connect two contacts that are the same but do not share any common info: for example, my wife that has no email address in Facebook so it could not be linked, but now I have her picture on my phone and it will change if she changes her profile in Facebook. When you edit a contact, it shows you where every field came from. Some can’t be modified (you can’t change any of your friends info from Facebook, they do). It even merged two contacts I had duplicated in Gmail by mistake… Awesome. Sync nirvana. Finally.
Put everyone together in one address book without lifting a finger. Only MOTOBLUR continuously syncs your phone and email contacts with your friends from Facebook™, MySpace and Twitter. Automatically.
But these solutions are just the beginning of the mobile, social address book.
I’d like to see these types of features move to other devices. The easiest way to integrate more social networks and online services would be through Funambol, the open source sync client that supports many, many phones. And since the CEO Fabrizio Capobianco thinks so much of the social sync built-in to the Palm Pre (see above), you would think Funambol would be involved more in the social arena. But Funambol only really has AvatarGrabber (to grab photos from Facebook, etc.), which is a very rough, client-side app (not built-in to Funambol). They have facebook-client project, but no outcome exists (and no Facebook sync). And there was also some interest in a feature to invite contacts into your social network, but again, no outcome.
I’m also surprised BlackBerry hasn’t done more in this arena. They seem to be becoming one of the larger consumer (as opposed to business) phone providers, but even their spiffy new operating system doesn’t have any social features.
So, to conclude, the integrated, social address book is the future. Some type of sync between your phone contacts and your contacts in social networks and online services (ie. Gmail and Google Contacts). This integrated, social address book has really only been deployed at the mobile level on the Palm Pre, Vodafone, and Motorola CLIQ. And on the desktop, really Xobni is the only contender, while the Microsoft Outlook Social Connector (and LinkedIn support) will be coming soon.
I hope to see it deployed soon elsewhere (Blackberry and Funambol?).