Earlier this year, I attended a conference where I saw demos of a couple of products designed to improve contact management within Outlook. Afterward, I discussed the demos with two people who had sat through them and we agreed that, while five years ago we might have liked these products, today we couldn’t see using them.
Why? Because all of us had stopped using contacts within Outlook and had moved our contact management to social networks, like Facebook and LinkedIn.
For me, this has been useful. Now, when I meet someone, instead of having to take his business card and enter it into a system at a future date (if I ever get to it), I would add that person as a friend in Facebook or to my network in LinkedIn. When I need to make contact down the road, I know I can find him, and I’ll know that all of his information is up-to-date.
This solves lots of problems. No longer do I need to wonder if I still have the correct phone number, or email address or if the person even still works at the same company. Now I know what the person’s current situation is and I can even contact him directly through the social network’s messaging or chat system.
This has worked well. But when I saw Facebook’s recent announcement about its planned messaging service, even more powerful uses for these networks occurred to me.
To be clear, what Facebook is announcing is basic and, while potentially useful, it will not revolutionize anything at the moment. But the future potential could be big. I see the potential for a system to become the single point of contact for reaching people, no matter where they are and what means of communication they have.
Think of it like this. You need to contact your friend Joe right away. What do you do? Call or SMS his cell phone? Email him? See if he is available on IM? Maybe you’ll reach him, maybe not. Now imagine you simply click a Contact Joe icon in a social network or application. It knows how to reach Joe via phone, SMS, chat, email, or social network messaging system and is smart enough to use the most method most likely to succeed.
With a system like this, you can get ahold of people without having to access all of their numbers, chat handles and email addresses; you just say "contact Joe." Of course, as with anything, there are potential gotchas. First, the announced Facebook system doesn’t have this capability, and if it did (or eventually does), Facebook’s track record in privacy and covert feature changes would probably make many wary of fully committing to the system.
But a system like this doesn’t need to come from Facebook. With the wide availability of APIs for communication systems, many companies could build a similar system. In fact, Google, with Google Voice and Gmail, is closer to providing this type of functionality than Facebook is (without the key feature of the social network).
Still, whoever comes up with a system like this will have a potential customer in me.