Addressing the issue

There is a really broken thing on your computer and I am constantly amazed that it hasn’t been fixed. It’s the way addresses and contacts work. The issue is this: on a computer, you should never have to enter the same information twice, but that’s what keeps happening in your contacts.

Think about Katherine and me. How do we feature in your address book*. Most people used to have the couple at their home address in their address book with the house phone and then underneath you have something saying, “Alex Mob” etc.

But now in the electronic world you want to be able to know that when one of us calls you on the phone you have the right name pop up. So you set up both people individually, with their own mobile number. But where do you store the home address and the home phone number? Generally, you end up putting the home number on both people. Luckily my iPhone is smart with this and would say “Alex or Katherine calling” if the home number calls me.

But there is a problem. Something is broken. I’ve had to enter the home phone number twice, same problem with the address. But why? There is no real reason.

Personally, I think the way it should work is that you are able to nest information. So a regular person that you put in the contacts is at the top level. When you scroll through the contacts you only see this top set of people exactly as you do now. However you would be able to add a subordinate set of information – these would be houses, offices, children, etc. They would, in reality, be contacts exactly like the normal contacts, but they would be owned by at least one other contact, so don’t show up in the normal list.

That way, if we move you only need to change the address once. If your work friend, Karen, is in the phone and you want to add their partner’s name, you would make a subordinate contact. It wouldn’t normally show up, but when you need to remember Steve’s name, it’s there. Suddenly Karen can’t come to the football and Steve’s coming, you have a place to put his name and you can later work out which Steve it is. Then after the game, you actually exchange e-mails and suddenly Steve is a real mate so you promote him up and he no longer belongs to Karen. He’s just a regular contact and you don’t have to copy and paste that info out of some notes field you were using.

Surely this is the right way to do it?

*Obviously there’s a good chance we aren’t in your address book, but instead replace the names with some other random names of a couple that you know that you pluck from the air that make sense for your address book.

16 thoughts on “Addressing the issue

  1. fourstar says:

    Something about a spouse field in Address Book on the Mac, although looks like it might not port to iPhone:http://www.tuaw.com/2008/10/23/mac-101-address-book-a-z/And it still doesn't do quite what you want re: addresses!

  2. mr. c. says:

    for me this is interesting, because i don't have an address book.if i need to know where you live, i ask christine, or i'll ask you again, or maybe i'll just remember. i think the internet means you we longer need to maintain individual address books.think about it.why should you maintain an address book, and fourstar maintain an address book, both likely containing duplicate information, both likely containing each others details.if someone you both know moves house, that's two updates that need to be made.isn't it better if the person who you wish to contact keeps their own whereabouts up to date and you just google them (or ask them) to find out where they are?if we all keep track of ourselves, no-one needs an address book any more.

  3. Alex Andronov says:

    Well I'm not going to pretend that you are a usual test case for this but you raise two interesting points. One is that if the person is using the contacts standard system of the future I shouldn't have to hold their info I should just subscribe to them.Now I don't send much post to individuals but I do and Christmas cards and postcards. Now I understand that these technologies will soon cease to exist. But I do need a system in the mean time.Also my guess is that when you ask Christine she looks it up in your collective address book 😉

  4. fourstar says:

    Yes, exactly you should be able to subscribe to a person, with the ability for them to block you from seeing some/all/any details as required.And then the provider would go bust and sell the list to spammers, but still…

  5. mr. c. says:

    "also my guess is that when you ask Christine she looks it up in your collective address book ;)"apparently not, no 🙂

  6. fourstar says:

    Surely the answer must lie with Google. As in, Solveig and I can see each other's Calendars, so why not our Contacts? All this bother seems to stem from the phrase "Personal Address Book". We should just have a big CRM system for everyone, with user-defined permissioning.Do you not send birthday cards to people, Mr C? Not a criticism, just curious 🙂

  7. mr. c. says:

    "Do you not send birthday cards to people, Mr C? Not a criticism, just curious :)"nope. not birthday's nor christmas. not even for each other.

  8. Alex Andronov says:

    But you did recently want, on the site, to have a good way of remembering everyone's birthday. So you have set up a calendar in google. Now there is no way of connecting my e-mail address for example to that birthday that you've added. You have to rely on a fuzzy match of typing my name into the calendar to find my birthday or typing my name in to your e-mail address book. Then to find my skype name you go to skype.I know you wouldn't need to know about my skype username anywhere else but in skype. But instead of all these seperate data stores I'd like to see a place I can go and have all of this info about my contact in one place.

  9. mr. c. says:

    point taken. although you're wrong if you think i have an email address book. i keep deleting everything out of there too :)to send you an email, i normally find an old one and reply to that. but then i rarely send email.i know i'm unique, but i agreed with your initial statement that address books are broken. in my case because i don't think they should be installed at all. certainly not as part of the core itouch OS.

  10. Christine says:

    "But instead of all these seperate data stores I'd like to see a place I can go and have all of this info about my contact in one place."The weird thing about that is presumably you would then need to check both your data storage place, and then head over to Skype as well which seems like more work?

  11. Alex Andronov says:

    @Christine I suppose so. I would really like a subscription model where when I change the thing in skype it automatically updates my contact info.

  12. Alex Andronov says:

    @mr cPart of my and fourstars job requires the running of both electronic and physical mailing lists. People want us to send them things. Now that is a dead business normally because normally people should move to subscribing. But for our regulated industry it is up to us to prove that they are actually people we are allowed to send things to. People in business will still want to meet people. And at least in business at the moment it is seen as unprofessional to keep asking for somebodies address.However you are from the future and I am sure you are right about how we will be in the future. I think some of this is about improving the deck chairs on the titanic but we will be on this ship for a good few years yet.For example as a non phone user you miss our on this but it is much better to be able to see the name of the person who is phoning you because they are in your phone contacts than it is to try and remember the number of everyone who has called. Once you are holding a record of who somebody is I guess you have an address book of sorts.(obviously mr c is just using his inbox as an address book.)

  13. fourstar says:

    I wouldn't have thought people's Skype username changes much, so that's a one-off entry, no? So as long as the person maintains their own details in one place, surely everyone else could have access to it, as permissioned by the user. In fact, there are already services when you move house that update your new address with your utility companies, banks, subscriptions, etc; why not on an individual level?

  14. Alex Andronov says:

    Why aren't the companies subscribing to you also in this model?That would be perfect.

  15. fourstar says:

    Well yes, that's what should happen. In a way, Royal Mail who offer this service are starting our 'people' database, aren't they.

  16. Alex Andronov says:

    Fourstar described it well in real life and I don't spot it here in the comments it could be part of openid. Sign up to a company give them your openid. Then a request appears saying which address would you like your bank to see?

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