The trouble with contacts

I came across Joseph Smarr’s semi-rant about the current state of contacts and found myself nodding throughout. I also recently needed to send letters to physical addresses, in my case invitations to an event, and found that I barely had current addresses for any of my invitees. Like Mr. Smarr pointed out, I did have them in various locations on my phone, such as the different messaging apps and email, and I have even been to many of these addresses, but they were difficult to access and not updated in my main contact app, Google contacts. In the end it was simpler to email or message the invitees with missing info and get that from them.

The Phone Book. Once a the best resource for updated contact info. Now an ancient artifact.

The Phone Book. Once the best resource for updated contact info.

I have three more reasons contacts do not work, aside from those pointed out in the post:

  1. Social networks are the worst at polluting your contacts though they should be the best. Multiple entries exist for the same person because, really, who can tell if Sam Brown from Facebook is the same Sam Brown from LinkedIn? What’s frustrating is that it is not altogether impossible to align these two currently separate entities. After all, Facebook asks for employment history and LinkedIn is all about employment history, or by similar emails, locations and so on. Many of the social networks as for so many profile data points that it should be possible to find these duplicates. Sadly, this will never happen because this information is kept securely in every network’s walled garden, just as Mr. Smarr pointed out.
  2. I don’t trust most of the social networks to access my contacts, especially with their mobile apps. Google+ always wants to add people in “my circles” (most of whom I don’t know and who are more like twitter followers in terms of their relationship with me than actual friends) and LinkedIn sends too many emails for my taste. After reading this post, about how the Facebook app deleted the numbers from contacts once the account had been disabled, I declined to install the app. I’ll maintain my contacts myself, thank you.
  3. It seems like the smartest option would be to ask your contacts what their updated information is, but this, as evidenced by the recent app Humin and the former derision of Plaxo, is not liked by the people receiving those requests.

Finally, a product idea.

Perhaps the onus of updated contact info should not rest upon the “collector” but rather on the contact? Meaning, instead of me looking to update the information for all my contacts, maybe the contacts themselves should notify me when there is a change.

  1. It cannot be built on an existing social network because the people with which you would trust your physical information are not your Facebook friends, you LinkedIn contacts and definitely not your Twitter followers. They might be a subset of your messaging apps, but let’s assume that these are a small, select group of very trusted people. Yes, you would have to set up yet another contact list on another social application, but hopefully this one will be worth it!
  2. When a contact on your list changes address, they make that change in the app. Then, they’d indicate who that update can go out to.
  3. The app would have access to whatever contact application you are using, such as Google contacts, but would update it only with permission. “Sam Brown would like to update his contact info. Approve? Yes/No” and that’s it.

Simple enough, right?

 

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