Friday, March 23, 2007

The humble contacts book: An object of perfection, or ripe for a revamp?

Whether it's at a dinner-party or late night foray into a strange bar, the fact that I work for Nokia is an easy ticket to talk. People generally have powerful reactions, as more often than not I'm working for the company that makes the product that gets them to work, connects them with who matters to them, and gets them laid. This is clearly quite a burden, but the company wears it well - with a well-deserved reputation for solidity, easy to use, reliability and the fact that the damn thing just works. (Sure there are often also comments along the lines of "why on earth don't you bring back that beautiful silver bullet phone [6310] - it was my favourite thing ever..." etc.) But the fact remains - we are still carrying a good deal of people's goodwill, and we mess with it at our peril.

And nowhere is this goodwill more obvious than in the trusty familiar contacts book. It has been going strong in a similar looking format for well over a decade (I'd guess, haven't been here long enough to remember that far back). Messing with the contacts book would be like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa - an act of vandalism, surely. Surely? Well, I'm not so sure. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea that things must stay how they were because that's how they have always been. Everywhere else the world around is changing upside down, and consumer communication behaviours are being re-written, one twitter at a time.

One of our recent Nokia speaker series guests (Stephen Messer, who had just sold his company for several hundred million dollars, so I listen when he speaks) put it like this - the telco industry has lost the opportunity to innovate in the contacts book, whereas the internet industry has come along and invented an entire new industry - social networking - to fill this innovation void. Hmmm, food for thought? This got me thinking anyway. Even though people do like their contacts book, are we missing out on realizing the full potential of the Internet to make an even better experience? Isn't MySpace just your contacts book with Internet-innovation added? Several ideas jump out at me: automatic backups is one clear missing feature that really should be widestream (and we're actually already, rather quietly, doing this in various places already). How about integrating other features into the phonebook - or perhaps taking some away. What would you like to see?

(I should probably point out that my position in strategy makes me far removed from the actual tech-heads who build this stuff (and maintain your trusty contacts book in its pristine state) so feel free to be as crazy and ambitious as you like...)


oobio said...

Interesting post. To answer your question, it's ready for a revamp if you ask me.

I read this interesting article in the Herald Tribune today, somewhat related to the matter:

Wireless: Tracking what people do on their cellphones

wyndham lewis said...

Good article but to what extent are My Space or any of those sites really a development of the little black book and the most effective way to manage ones contacts online? When people are contacting and managing their relationships online aren't they more likely to rely on email or messenger contact lists which are easier to manage, sort and private. Of course My Space, Bebo, linkedin etc... can provide an identity and address as well as deliver the communications functionality (email, messenging, VOIP) which is increasingly commoditised. Sorry eBay you overpaid for Skype. The biggest problem that these sites have is one of identity; my 'my space' identity is very different from the one I want to portray on linkedin for instance. A central place for me to manage my contacts is more beneficial than a separate platform for each facet of my life. What maybe more useful would be a black book that could aggregate all the contacts from a range of different sources and help you manage them.

Jeb said...

I would like to be able to have multiple address books on one device or the ability to sync my contact database from work which has 3 databases in it to one address book or one section of the address book in my phone and then have my personal address book in a different section and so on. I like to have it all polled though when a call comes in so it can tell me what phone book this person is calling from and who they are. I am tired of just having one phone book on my phone.

The contact databases these days should also have the ability to sync with more then just Outlook and Domino or what ever it is. I use Outlook and ACT! and Zoho and in the future maybe additional phone books. I would like to have one central location to have all my contacts and my phone would be the best place. All to often do I get phone calls from clients that I would not have answered if I knew who it was. I am a small business owner and have just one voice line and that's my mobile phone.

Another suggestion would be to make the phone book more powerful in terms of ability to handle several thousand names. I have nearly 800 personal contacts and over 1000 clients/potential clients that I need to stay in contact with. Even if I was able to sync them all to my phone, the conatact app would run unbarebly slow.

I think that's it for now but there are a few suggestions.

vt said...

Here's my thought for a penny:

Tagging people in the contacts = better filtering of people = ability to collect more names. Now, when ordered alphabetically, it doesn't really scale up or it has items in it which are not needed all the time.

Another idea would be to have multiple contact books, which would serve the same function.

Wyndham said...

Here's a case in point why social networks don't provide the best medium/tool to replicate your contacts book or help you manage your contacts. BT have just launched a new tool for SMEs to network called tradespace. Try and find something that you want on it. You can't at the moment there's no search or assisted navigation function killing it at birth. A triumph of Web2.0 over practical purpose. Url

Anonymous said...

I don't know about fancy social-networking features ... I just miss the ability I had on my old Palm to link contacts with events on the calendar, perhaps to more easily call them when the event comes up? That would make my life easier!

Matt said...

I have just started synching my contacts between Outlook and Phone - stupid that it took me so long to get round to really.

A meta directory of some description...through all email and all phones, that makes it incredibly easy to update....a popped window to say, "who was that from"

Anyhow, at work, I use a system that I just click someone's name to call them. They have the facility to change the number they want to be called on - thus abstracting the method to dial, from the device to call them on. Neat.

Along that principle, I'd love to see a 'link' to call, and extend that ability for people to change their devices and numbers that are attached to that link, at will.

Among other benefits, think about a self updating phone book, I'd bet we'd all have more old friends than we do now.

This probably is aligned with the Identity 2.0 thing, which is something else I keep forgetting to read more about.

(I can't think that tagging contacts is any better than searching for them by name though)

Anonymous said...

I think allowing some options for the contacts book would be great but shouldnt be set in stone. for example, allow grouping of the contacts like instant messanger does and then allow data transfers to an entire group. It should also allow you to go back to the group and deselect in case there are a few within the group that you dont want seeing what youre sending. I think it'd be great if you could add your myspace/facebook friends to your contacts and leave mesages for them from your phone.

Rosie said...

These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

Anonymous said...


would like to make groups in contacts based on the notes within the contacts.
i have people with different comments in the note field of the contact. It would be a delight to have them filtered with smart groups.