One Address Book To Rule Them All

It’s 2012 and the “contact information problem” is getting exponentially worse. I’ve personally been struggling with this for 20+ years since I remember going from a custom database we built at Feld Technologies (in DataFlex) to Act! to try to manage the contacts across the company. While all the technology has changed, the problem has gotten substantially worse, as every web-based and mobile app now has some kind of contact info associated with it.

Today, there is no single authoritative contact record for an individual. I’ve been through a bunch of different iterations of technology around this such as SAML, FOAF, and Oauth. I remember Firefly and Passport. I’ve been involved in a number of companies who have tried to build “clean contact lists” and tried virtually every service I’ve ever run into. I’ve completely fucked up my address book more than once, especially as I tried to wire in data from other services that use Oauth or an email address to join data across web services. And yet we still have address blocks in emails, vcards, and crappy, incomplete, and incorrect data everywhere. And I still get referred to as Brad Batchelor in physical mail that I get from Wellesley College (which both Amy and I think is cute.)

Nothing works and it’s just getting worse. Fragmented data, incorrect data, changed data, duplicated data – it gets proliferated. All you need to do to see the core problem is look at the same data for a person in LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Multiple email addresses, lots of different contact info, time-based information that isn’t treated correctly, and huge errors all over the place.

That’s why we’ve invested in FullContact. They are on a mission to solve the world’s contact information problem. Imagine a unified address book in the cloud that has perfect information for every single person with a contact record of any type. This unified address book is continually updated, cleansed, enriched, and validated. It integrates with every web-based or mobile application that uses any sort of contact data, and it is available to every developer via an API.

This is a massive data problem. The team at FullContact is approaching it as such. It’s one where the machines do all the work and don’t rely on us silly humans, or the IT people, to change behavior and systems. For a look behind the curtains watch this short example from FullContact’s Identibase.

If you are a developer, FullContact’s goal is for you to use their cloud address book via their API. If you are an individual, you can use the FullContact cloud address book as your source address book. And if you are a business, you can finally get a unified contact management system across your organization without having to do very much. Data will automagically get cleaned up, enriched, de-duplicated, validated, and backed up, making it easily accessible in any context.

We’ve gone after the world’s contact information problem a number of times in a number of different ways over the years with different investments. We’ve never been involved in conquering it and it’s just gotten worse. This is the first time I feel like we are investing in the right approach to solve the problem once and for all.

Oh – and we love the team. If you want a fun view of why, take a look at From Basements to Brad Feld: The Story of 126 NOs and 1 Big YES.

  • Great post, Brad. It’s great to see a surge of talented teams working to the solve this problem. With so many new solutions (FullContact, Brewster, Cobook), I’m excited to see what results from creative competition. Thanks for introducing me to FullContact.

  • I’ve had dinner w/ Bart + have also had the pleasure of visiting the FullContact office in DEN. Smart crew + I absolutely love Bart’s personal style (I’ve told him so).

    This is a huge opportunity (duh), but is full of ratholes to avoid. Executing on the vision while keeping private data (i.e. my home number that just happens to be in your address book ‘cuz I gave it to you that one time… etc) private + out of view will be challenging.

    But I have confidence that they’ll get it done.

    • Thanks John. It’s a difficult problem and one I’m obsessed with. I look forward to solving it with our team!

  • Xobni/Smartr, Gist and others have been trying to solve this problem. None of them have really found Nirvana… I’ll look forward to FullContact making a breakthrough… and I’m willing to risk my contacts again if they can find that “perfect” solution.

  • This post along with Barts on FullContact’s blog:

    Really is an amazing story of perseverance and how far hard work can really take you.

  • This just might be my favorite investment I’ve seen you guys make…I *really* hope that this one works out as planned as it will def. be a HUGE help for so many things…

    Going to go check out the stuff for developers now…thanks!

  • that does sound very interesting. People’s data is all fragmented across the social networks and multiple email accounts do make it more difficult. I have some friends who use contact monkey which is basically a cloud v-card – It is useful to incude in your signatures and helps keep the information updated.

  • I have this very same issue for years. Many address books, some local (e.g. pst) some cloud (Gmail) some social (FB, LinkedIn) all with many contacts and some duplicated between them. I’m excited to see the beta, and optimistic that you can “claim yourself” as I’ve seen on the site (a la contact monkey perhaps). Once you’ve got the syncing between sources and the veracity of data working, next I want to be able to “”put them to work”, such as using Contactually or, build a tool to, and I’ll paraphrase from another social site. “mirror my life online” but more focused on business development rather than sharing pictures of my breakfast.

    • good insight Joshua. Contactually actually uses our API and is a customer of ours!

  • Scott

    This is one of the best applications I’ve seen in a long time! I can see so many uses for it and hope to learn more about it having signed up for the public beta. One detail that would be great is to be able to filter by recent activity. It would give you a very quick overview of what applications your contacts are using often so you can see what they prefer to use for communicating.

    I’ve also been thinking of how I can become more informed by my clients without having to ask for information about whats happening at the company. I thought of asking for a company email address so I can stay in the loop, and seeing this demo and how it can show connections to profiles, that would be a great way to quickly see what the company is doing in various social communities, who is highly active, etc.

    Can’t wait to see what can be built with their API!

  • Brewster: Is It Green?

  • Looking forward to using that one. I entered my email for the beta.

    • You should totally be using their API. I’ll introduce you directly.



        • Totally partner.

        • Partner, definitely. We could complement your contact folder with their data possibly.

  • Would love to see this work, signed up for beta. Congrats and best of luck! Being a location geek, would love to see some creative location features in mobile implementations.

  • Interesting. We funded Cloudbot, which petered out. USV just did Brewster. I know of another company, 5 Degrees. I am glad so many are trying to figure this out. What ever wins will be great.

    • 5 Degrees is actually a customer of ours (they use our infrastructure)




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  • Love this concept. Every time I enter anyone’s contact info into an app I’m reminded how dumb that manual entry is (or even the vcard download/upload). I hope Bart and his team figure it out. Trust in the brand will be really important — people will be skeptical of one company owning all that data.

    • thanks Brian. It is dumb and we aim to fix it. I agree – Trust & Privacy are extremely important components – people want to control their address book!

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