[Antoine RJ Wright is a smart person I have never met, but one who I met through this blog. I've ended up reading his writings and also his comments on this blog once in a while. In my search for a Skype killer post, Antoine left an interesting idea that I just had to have clarified a bit. I ended up asking Antoine to write a guest post on his idea of the open address book, which he did. I do hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.]
As a connected generation, we’ve pretty much solidified our stance on things like social networking – it’s pretty major and a normal part of a connected lifestyle. What’s been more difficult to pin down is how to access and connect all of these networks easily. Well, I think the answer’s been staring at us since mobiles first came on the scene – the mobile phonebook.
Is it time for a social, mobile phonebook?
Now, before I go further, there is some sort of an idea of this connected mobile phonebook being pursued by device makers and a few operators. The idea being that you simply sign in to whatever social networking service you normally use , and then all of your connections from that service are there for you to chat (voice, messaging, or video) with. Thing is, the implementation of this is still available only on a few devices – the Palm Pre, Vodafone 360, and a few HTC models.
But the idea is there: we just need something a bit more unified – an open address book if you will. Something where device operators, messaging service providers, and social networks would essentially just need to write a plugin, that authenticates using their services, and then grants the user access to items from the familiar circle they contain.
In some respect, there are service providers doing this – Fring and Nimbuzz, for instance. You sign up for their service, download an application, and then have their service as an enablement layer that stitches these disparate services all together within your mobile. I just think that this is something carriers could have done years ago, and it would have been a pretty easy way for carriers to get onto the social networking bandwagon.
Ok, so they would have also had to accept the role of a broker for these services. But that’s a good thing in that it could have been a nice and easily monetized service layer for them – much like MMS and BES/BIS is.
The main problem with this approach? Well, a mobile operator would essentially have to step back and become a storefront for mobile-enabled services that might counter their own initiatives. And considering that there are so many mobile device platforms, it wouldn’t be the easiest thing to support.
But, if it were a framework that was used by all mobile platforms – with whatever special sauce they wanted as long as it stayed compatible with the trunk – then that could be nullified. And instead of App Stores, on the mobile side we’d have Service Stores – where users could view and purchase those services that would be most beneficial for them – keeping the carrier as a part of the mobile social networking and connecting process.
What do users gain? One address book, many services. Can’t get much easier that that when it comes to connecting and communicating.
And then those social network, VoIP, IM, and other service providers would have to innovate not by locking a user into an application, but by ensuring that the experience of using their service is consistent between devices and users. A bit more difficult, but a better and more long-term solution for many of these services in respect to keeping customers and generating consistent revenue.
As a connected generation, we’ve pretty much gone as far as we can with the “little black book” metaphor that mobile devices still have. A person’s mobile address book is their social network of choice. It’s the access and enablement point not just for what they like, but whom they like it with. Carriers and manufacturers alike would be wise to take what Palm, Vodafone, and HTC have done, and quickly evolve it – the networks can bear it, and the genre of social networking and communicating could thrive in it.