Have you ever been in a situation where you called a friend or sent them a post card, only to realize that they have moved/changed their number and you just don’t have the updated information? Its pretty frustrating. Making the problem even more complicated is the fact that most of us have such information spread out across a lot of places: orkut/facebook profiles, online address books (such as Yahoo or Google), our local addressbooks etc.
The same goes for dates you’d like to remember. For instance, wouldn’t it be cool if lets say I were getting engaged, I would just add it to my calendar and modulo access rights and such, all of my friends would automatically be notified and have the option of adding the date to their calendars?
The other issue with this whole contact management problem is that there are no prevalent standards. I would like to access my addressbook and calendar from my desktop email client, my gmail account and my telephone. If anyone in my addressbook moves or updates their contact information, I’d like to be notified and have those changes be reflected in my addressbook.
I think this is a very hot consumer space and certainly there are already some companies offering solutions. Two popular ones are [[http://ringo.com|Ringo]] and [[http://plaxo.com|Plaxo]].
Ringo is sort of a more old school kind of solution. The idea is that you and all of your friends create an account on Ringo, and you are responsible for keeping your own information up to date. Whenever any one in your contact list updates their information, you will be notified. I call this an old school solution because AFAIK there is no integration with existing email clients, no calendar support and so on. Ringo can only take you so far. Recently, Ringo has also shifted its focus to “photo and video sharing made easy”, which seems very weird to me.
Anyways, Plaxo is a much more interesting company. It does a LOT of what I want. Here’s a quote from the website:
//”… the only online address book and calendar that syncs with Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, the Mac, Thunderbird, and your mobile phone!”//
You can manage your contacts/calendar through the Plaxo website. Additionally, Plaxo provides downloads for Thunderbird, Outlook etc that enable you to sync and use your contacts and calendar from these tools. I haven’t used it extensively yet, but so far it looks very promising.
Which brings me to the subject of this post. I’m actually very disappointed by Google’s addressbook, specially given the quality of the rest of their products. It is a pale, feature sparse offering when compared to gmail or Google calendar. Ideally, I’d like Google to export an LDAP interface to my contacts — its a fairly mature technology and almost all desktop email clients have robust support for LDAP addressbooks.
Technology apart, I think doing this kind of integration //makes a lot of sense// for Google. They have the infrastructure, and its a network effect kind of thing. For instance, Google Calendar becomes so much more useful if your colleagues and collaborators are also using it. Google Calendar also enables developers to interact with it by means of several APIs: XML, RSS, iCal, HTTP etc. For instance, Mozilla Sunbird recently released a new version which has in-built support for Google Calendar.
Even if they don’t provide LDAP support, they should at least open up the APIs. Then people can go ahead and write extensions for Thunderbird, plugins for KMail etc. Google also needs to make the contact interface richer and more complete. For instance, I would like to associate important dates with my contacts (birthdays and anniversaries), URLs (blogs and websites). I would like to tag my contacts as well, just as I tag my mail. The good thing is that all of these are already supported by the VCard standard (and KMail leverages this very well).
So why isn’t Google killing Plaxo yet? May be they’ll just buy them out :)