Software that Fixes my Contact List Problem?

At last count I have at least 12 separate contact lists.  There is one list each for Outlook, AIM, MSN Messenger, private Exchange IM, Orkut, Hotmail, MSN Groups, GotDotNet Workspaces, my blogroll, Outlook Express, my banks billpay services, and even my Xbox Live friends list!!!

If you are anything like me you know that there is a LOT of overlap between these lists.  Meaning I had to enter a lot of duplicate information to link to and describe the same people over and over again.  I have to open several different programs to send and receive information from all off these people.  Each person is described differently within each service.  For some people I have to remember their alias on at least 5 different services because they couldn’t get their preferred aliases with each service.  I feel like I need a secretary just to keep all this information correct across services.

Give me one list to rule them all!  Let me manage only one list.  I don’t care who enables this.  It could be longhorn with WinFS, it could be the Outlook team, or it could be some third party application. If you are able to make a good portion of the following scenarios a reality I’m wiling to pay good money for your software:

  • If I add a contact to AIM (or any other IM service) I want hotmail (or any other mail service I might use) to know it should let this person through to my inbox or straight to my other IM apps without a warning. 

  • I want to have one IM program that merges all the names.  Trillian IM put three of these lists into one app, but the constant service interruptions and lack of true merging forced me to delete it in a fit of frustration. When I send someone a message send it to their preferred service most likely to find them.

  • If I join a new community let me know who all of my current friends are that have already joined the community and link me to them within that community automatically.

  • Enable easy content sharing and collaboration with all of my contacts.  You should subscribe me to their blogs and discussion posts automatically, alert me when they post new pictures to their yahoo groups share, and let me share documents, code snippets, and projects with the correct sub groups with ease. 

Am I missing something?  Is there software that does this already?  What is your dream application that’s MIA?

Comments (14)

  1. J.P. says:

    I had also thought of this problem in the past. I had discussed it with others at one of the geek dinners actually. I came up with some possible solutions that each had their good and bad qualities to them. Hopefully some day technology will exist such that the bad qualities are not valid any longer.

    – Contact List Broker. In this model, there would be some website out there that would agree to hold a list of contacts for you as well as an extensible set of information for them. For instance, I would probably want name and email to start with, but then if I signed up for a service such as Orkut for instance and they supported this method (gotcha number 1) then I could simply import the list of contacts from the broker. Also, lets say that I found some new people on Orkut that I added to my list, or people already on my list had different IDs on Orkut, then I should be able to Reverse Integrate (sTLA==RI) my contact list to my contact list broker, and have them add the new entries based on the info from Orkut as well as add the Orkut IDs as a new extensible attribute on all my existing contacts that are on Orkut. That way, if I wanted a central interface on my machine directly with the broker, I would have all the contact mechanisms for my contacts because all of the various services would add them as attributes. Now this is a rather idealistic approach. If it worked this way, things would be grand, but there are a few technical problems to solve as well. I have some ideas for those as well….

    – Broker discovery: How would said service be able to find out who my contact list broker is? Well, there are two models to this. The first is that I just provide a URL to some sort of SOAP method / Web service which conforms to some standard for this whole idea, and then the service I am signing up with can take it from there by getting all other information from the broker’s site. The second method would be if I wanted to run my own contact broker software (ahem…hints…idea for outlook…) and have all this information stored locally on my machine, then another possibility would be for me to simply have some software which is attached to my email program (ahem outlook again) which could detect a contact list request from the remote service (after giving them my email), and then the program being able to either add the necessary information to the email so that the service can then contact the program directly (think IP tunneling from a UPnP NAT), or if that fails and the service re-tries, then to send the information in a specified format over SMTP. And, finally, one other possibility was that if people that owned their own domain wanted to do this, maybe there can be a DNS entry for the domain (a SRV or INFO maybe) which is of a fixed format such that I can specify my email address (with my own domain), and then the service will look up this dns record automatically, and know where my Contact Broker is (and with this last one, I could use any solution and put the address in the DNS record).

    There are so many more technical issues, but the biggest as I mentioned earlier was that this would all depend on services supporting the technique. I do agree though that at this rate, services will WANT to support this so that they can advertise how easy it is to join because they can pull all your contact information from your broker. Also, I originally thought of these ideas because I was typing information about myself at SO many different sites, and just wanted a place to be able to keep information about myself such that I did not have to keep re-writing it. Therefore, the way I see it, that would also be a reccomended feature of the service.

    I think there are great places for this to go, and I think that we already have the technology to impliment prototypes today. I would write it, but I barely have time for much software development anymore. But all it needs is an XML schema which is specific, yet allows for extentions by various services, and a web service schema which defines the methods for which all these requests are actually made. In the end the technology should ultimately limit the ammount of information the user has to re-type though.

    I think as you mentioned though this has some great opportunities with WinFS as well. They could even implement this service I was mentioning so that sites can just get the information from my machine, and they update my machine with information from the service as it relates to my contacts.

    I would love to talk about this more some time since I have also been frustrated with this problem, and would be so glad to see it go away.


  2. jledgard says:

    I think it’s going to take some RSS type standard for contact information implemented as web services and exposed from clients WinfFS machines for this to really take off. I’ll join a web site. The site will ask if I mind it querying my computer for my information, my computer will give it up, the site will compare my contacts to their existing database and match up when appropriate. The other benefit for the sites to do this would be that they could automatically say "These three people are not members, can I send them mail to get them to join?" I would think they would love it.

  3. Diego Vega says:

    Have your ever heard about the Plaxo add in for Outlook? I think they are closer than anybody else to fulfill what you ask for. There is still some work to do, though:

    – Extend their schemas to support new fields (for instance IDs for Orkut, AIM, etc.).

    – Write some standard web service interface so that everybody else (including Orkut, Hotmail, AIM, etc.) can interact with the service. They could also choose to write the gluing pieces their selves.

    – Devise some way to get everybody to give and update their own personal data. The more people do it, the less you need to type.

    Plaxo claims they have one million members, which is impressive. Still, privacy concerns dissuade many people of giving Plaxo their personal data. I, for example, have been using Plaxo for a while, but I have been shy to perform a massive update request until now.

  4. jledgard says:

    Privacy concerns have dissuaded MS from allowing us to install it as well. But this, and other social networking software, seems to be one of the keys to making my dream world a reality.

  5. Diego Vega says:

    Then what we do? Maybe Microsoft could buy Plaxo? 😉

  6. jledgard says:

    I think the concern is with the privacy policy. 🙁

  7. salma says:

    i am more confused by reading this pls use simple words to tell

  8. salma says:

    may be but i am not feling secure now

  9. Bob_Chauvin says:

    I’m in the process of building connectors for outlook to provide this type of service at the corporate contact data level.

    Similar situation:

    ) Many Exchange/Outlook Address Books…

    ) Duplicate data across Address Books

    ) Company Contact databas with related contact data…

    I’d like Exchange and Outlook to play nice with other data.