Convergence Will Be at the Data Level

Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior VP for Product Management and Marketing at Google, spoke at Claremont last week, and one of the things he said was that in the old days everybody thought convergence would happen at the device level. We’d have some super duper device that would do everything. Instead, as we all continue to lug around many different power chargers, it’s clear convergence will happen at the data level. Integration and global access to this data, then, will be a key challenge.

I’ve been thinking about this as I reflect on one of my 2008 goals which is to re-vamp the way I manage my address book and “social data.” The people I know and the relationships I have are important to me, yet the information I have about these people is scattered across many databases and services. This makes it difficult to know who I know, the last time I talked to them, what other services they use, their latest contact info, etc.

Currently, my base for social info is my address book which lives in an Exchange server that I access locally in Microsoft Entourage (the sucky Mac alternative to Outlook) and on my T-Mobile Dash. Within Entourage I do email, calendar, address book, and tasks — accessing this integrated data in one app is awesome. Thanks to Exchange, I enjoy real time sync across my local machine, mobile device, and webmail.

Then I have many fringe data centers. I have over 1,000 friends in Facebook. Hundreds in LinkedIn and Plaxo and other networks. I have a few thousand in my email newsletter database (MailerMailer). A few dozen in Salesforce.com Personal Edition (which I use for more conventional sales-type leads). And then the 1,200 contacts in my address book on Exchange. Some of these records overlap, some do not. Then there are even more fringe places like my 350 RSS feeds, IM, del.icio.us, Twitter, and other places where I have silos of contact data.

None of it is integrated. When I go to a city, I can’t quickly see who I know in the city. When I pull up an entry in my address book, I can’t immediately see when my last contact with that person was. I can’t easily see who I’m not connected to on a social network even though I know the person. As a Mac user, I can’t use plug-ins like Xobni or the Salesforce Outlook plug-in (and run a SFDC CRM system for personal use). Without a plug-in to my email workhorse, I’m screwed, because non-integrated web-based solutions such as HighRise require too much double-entry (though if anyone wants to persuade me otherwise, I’m all ears). And I’m not prepared to jump 100% into one social network – I’d prefer for my data to be on my own server and be platform agnostic.

Obviously, this is not just my challenge. Data convergence in the cloud, particularly around social information, is one of the primary drivers of the new wave of internet stuff being developed. If you hear the phrases “implicit web” or “defrag” or “social graph” – it usually refers to these issues.

One interesting result of this non-integrated infrastructure is that I’m not devoting much energy toward maintaining ties with people who don’t intersect with me on at least one level of my “social stack”. In other words, if I’m not reading your blog, not following you on Twitter, not friends with you on a social network, not following you on del.icio.us, if you’re not on my email newsletter: I forget about you. Moreover, when deciding whether to invest time in an old friend who isn’t engaging with me somewhere on this stack or in someone new who is engaging with me (reading my blog or del.icio.us or whatever), I’m inclined toward the latter. As my interests and life changes, I find I have a stronger connection with people who are following me in “real time.”

In an ideal world the technology would allow me to organize my social data in a global way and not discriminate against those who don’t care for blogs or Twittering. Alas, it’s not there yet, though any fellow Mac users who have clever strategies are encouraged to comment on this post! In the meantime, as I spend more and more time producing and consuming content on the internet, my real-life connections and social habits have changed accordingly.

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