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People first

on your smartphone

Posted by Jeena

This is a reply to Tantek's "Toward A People Focused Mobile Communication Experience", read it first, otherwise you won't get what I am talking about. In short, what he proposes is basically something like Facebook Home tried to do but without Facebook, instead with peoples personal websites.

I get where this is coming from, he is one of the guys behind IndieWebCamp which tries a open web approach for the social media problem, where everybody has their own website under their own domain as their personal center of all their activity. I like the idea very much and back in 2004 when I started bloging this kind of was the state of the art, you went to a persons website to get information about what the're up to, and then Twitter and Facebook came.

People first

So the main idea is of this kind of interaction flow, where you put people first, not applications:

  • Go to someone's domain, e.g. tap their icon from home screen
  • See their personal home page which with methods of contact as a list or icons in the order that they prefer to be contacted.
  • Go across and down that list until you see something you can (and want) to use to communicate, and tap/click it.
  • The browser takes you to a website or "native" app to open the communication channel / new message.

Thus after tapping the person you want to communicate with, just one more tap to open a new IM, email, or audio/video call.

iPhone home screen with peoples avatars as icons

In theory this is rather great and would work with the tech we already have in place. In practice, there are huge problems with this.

Almost nobody has their own website

Less than 1% of the people I regularly talk to have their own website, and I know a huge amount of tech people to whom setting up their own website is not a skills problem. It is the huge amount of work where you have to research for weeks before you find something which would cover all the cases you'd like to have covered by your website. And then you'd need to update it regularly too, mostly via the browser on your desktop computer because most CMS don't really work that great on mobile devices, contrary to the Facebook and Twitter apps.

And I don't see that changing yet, perhaps if you'd give your Facebook or Google+, LinkedIn, etc. profile URL as your own Website to everybody and make it public.

I don't want to make my phone number, email, etc. public

Here in Sweden if you buy a mobile phone you automatically are listed on various phone book websites and it is really difficult to get that removed. That is actually why I prefer to buy anonymous prepaid SIM cards.

Tantek suggests that one could implement identification to solve this problem and in fact IndieAuth is quite cool because it allows you to use Twitter, Facebook and a ton of other authentication methods, so you don't need to roll your own thing.

But honestly, Facebook does exactly that already, you can have your public profile and provide your email address or IM, and if someone logs in, you can offer more to them depending on if they're your friend, or a friend of a friend, etc. like your phone number, your address, etc. With Facebook Home you get even this "people first" thing. Still Facebook Home, as I think we all can agree, has failed.

Put it in your address book

In my opinion stuff like this needs to go in to your address book, not on a personal website. In your address book you already can add a phone number, a IM username, email address, address, URL, birthday, relationship to that person, etc. We just would need some way to add more stuff like a link to the Facebook/Twitter/Github/Flickr profile, some kind of a link to a Skype call/chat, a click on the IM username should open the appropriate IM application so you could just start chatting, and it should show if the person is online and their availability status right now. That actually worked pretty well on OS X with XMPP/Jabber and AIM accounts before Apple broke it.

We would need the addressbook to be easier to use too, the address book apps I used yet are terrible! Almost always just a plain list with names in alphabetical order and a search field. Sometimes you can group people together but there is no smartness in the system whatsoever.

If you know some good address book software which still supports CardDav for synchronization please tell me.

1 Reply


Damn it! Last year I was looking for a better Address book alternative, I found Cobook which sounded great. But before I even was able to test it, I just found out that they've been sold http://blog.cobook.co/post/73405244860/cobook-fullcontact so another promising application is dead. It is happening over and over again, every time I find a interesting closed source app it gets sold, just like Sparrow.

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