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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.
I’ve recently discovered two awesome tools for helping me manage my contacts in Google Apps. One is a TechStars Boulder company called Rainmaker and the other is a Paris-based company called Kwaga that has an app called WriteThat.Name.
I’ve got a large address book in Gmail (> 11,000 contacts). I get numerous new inbound contacts on a regular basis from people reaching out to me and Google automatically puts their email address in Google Contacts, which is cool. However, it doesn’t put any additional info – either from the email body (which often has contact info in it) or from other sources like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook – which often has a lot more contact info, including a photo.
Let’s start with WriteThat.Name. Once you tie it to you Google account, it automatically scans emails, parses out any contact info it finds, and automagically adds it to the contact record. I’ve been looking for this for a very long time (over a decade) – I’ve never understood why Microsoft didn’t build this into Outlook. Sure – there have been plenty of plug-ins along the way, but nothing that “just worked” invisibly in the background. WriteThat.Name does – beautifully. After using it for a week for free I paid for it. I met the CEO Philippe Laval at lunch the other day in Paris and gave him a big hug. Do yourself a favor – try it.
The next app is Rainmaker. This is from one of the TechStars Boulder teams from this year that is just killing it. You connect it up to your social networks and your Google account. You can then selectively, or in bulk, “make it rain” on your contacts where Rainmaker will use all the magic it can to enhance your existing contacts using whatever information it can find. Like WriteThat.Name, this information is going directly into your Contact database, enhancing it dramatically.
While there is a lot more that can be done, both of these applications make good on the promise of “my computer being smarter than me.” I find that I spend almost no time in my Contacts entering data and updating it any more. All the stuff I need is there – all the time – and I can call, email, IM, chat, txt, or whatever I want without having to search around for the info.
One last hint – before you crank up any program that you give write access to your Google App data, make sure you use Spanning Backup to backup your Google Contacts, Calendar, and Docs data (we are investors in Spanning Cloud Apps, the company that does Spanning Backup.) While I’ve had no issues with either Rainmaker or WriteThat.Name, better safe than sorry!