I spent a bunch of time over the weekend considering an interesting question: what are contacts anyway?
The search for an answer to that (rhetorical) question stems from my work with DUB. For those that don’t already know, DUB is a mobile application that makes it easy to exchange contact information, and keep it current. I’m obviously quite passionate about DUB as a product, but the question of “what are contacts anyway?” has deeper implications.
Consider this: your friends are your contacts but not all contacts are friends. Similarly, people have colleagues, but not all colleagues are contacts. Then there is this idea that LinkedIn has popularized called “Connections.” But exactly what is a connection: someone you know well? someone from work? Is a connection also a contact? What is it?!? And to top it all off, the twitter vernacular of “followers” joined the fray. The result: It has become very difficult to categorize people relative to one’s self any more.
A ways back, I think Facebook had it right when they described their company as “a social utility that connects you to the people around you.” I always loved this description for its brevity, simplicity and elegance, and it brought together everyone: friends, contacts, colleagues, connections, followers, etc. Moreover, “people around you” hits upon the very essence of what contacts are in 2009: “people you may or may not want to get in touch with.”
With that definition in mind, now consider this “if I might have reason to get in touch with these people, how should I go about doing so?” A few years ago, that question was easy to answer—you call them. This is why you always saw a phone number attached to everything, as the telephone was the dominant mechanism of communication. Today, modern communication forms have made this question more complex. To answer it requires an investigation into the origins of something called the Address Book.
Back before cell phones, email, text messages or even land line phones, people used to write these things called letters (quaint isn’t it?). Writing a letter was simple, but getting it to the person you wanted to read it was certainly not. In order to bring about some order to the issue of mail delivery, communities (and eventually nations) developed the idea of a standardized address format. The address was more or less a note to the guy carrying your letter telling him where to take your letter and whom to leave it with.
Over time, population growth, wars, and a host of other factors caused people to become increasingly mobile, and this mobility led to a problem of knowing where someone would be so that others could send letters that would reach them. Enter the address book…
The address book was developed to solve the problem of how to store all the addressing information—as opposed to committing it to memory—for each of the people to whom you might want to send a letter. The address book has endured since then, and in fact we’re still using the address book today, mostly in the form of digital address books that exist on our computers and cell phones.
Paradoxically, the fact that we’re still using the address book in the digital age makes no sense at all, and all the sense in the world… at the same time. On the one hand, we no longer need to worry about what address to send a letter to as our computers handle all that information automatically when we send an email. Side Note: an email address is a bit of a misnomer as it’s not really an address per se, but more of a unique name acting as a substitue for someone’s real name (which probably isn’t unique). On the other hand, we do still have need for a list of people to whom we might want to send a message, and commonly refer to that list as an Address Book.
Since joining DUB back in April I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ‘Address Book’, ‘Contacts’ and ‘Contact Information.’ Indeed, these words appear numerous times within the DUB website and throughout our mobile applications and serve as the backdrop for how our product is understood. I’ve always thought “Contacts” was an obvious word choice as it describes “people you may or may not want to get in touch with.” But when you think about it, the terms ‘contacts’ and ‘contact information’ are not altogether accurate. After all, I don’t want to just contact someone, I want to communicate with them. Contact information is just the mechanism I use for initiating that communication.
So let’s recap… We’ve established that contacts, colleagues, friends, connections, are really just segmented lists of “people around you” as Facebook calls it. We’ve also talked about having a list of people we might or might not want to get in touch with, and how the address book came about and why it still exists today. Finally, we’ve identified that the real usage of contact information is as a mechanism for initiating communication. So… taking all that into account… if all we’re really interested in doing is communicating, why don’t we just, uhh, communicate? Enter DUB…
When you think about it, the only thing stopping us is making sure we have up to date contact information so that we can initiate that communication with someone else. This is exactly what DUB was created to do: to enable people to communicate by ensuring that they always have the most up to date contact information for people they may or may not want to get in touch with.
It’s bad form to quote an entire blog entry, but there isn’t a word of it I’d like to omit:
Let me see if I have the logic correct here: Whole Foods is consistently ranked among the most employee-friendly places to work in the service industry. In fact, Whole Foods treats employees a hell of a lot better than most liberal activist groups do. The company has strict environmental and humane animal treatment standards about how its food is grown and raised. The company buys local. The store near me is hosting a local tasting event for its regional vendors. Last I saw, the company’s lowest wage earners make $13.15 per hour. They also get to vote on what type of health insurance they want. And they all get health insurance. The company is also constantly raising money for various philanthropic causes. When I was there today, they were taking donations for a school lunch program. In short, Whole Foods is everything leftists talk about when they talk about“corporate responsibility.”
And yet lefties want to boycott the company because CEO John Mackey wrote an op-ed that suggests alternatives to single payer health care? It wasn’t even a nasty or mean-spirited op-ed. Mackey didn’t spread misinformation about death panels, call anyone names, or use ad hominem attacks. He put forth actual ideas and policy proposals, many of them tested and proven during his own experience running a large company. Is this really the state of debate on the left, now? “Agree with us, or we’ll crush you?”
These people don’t want a dicussion. They don’t want to hear ideas. They want you to shut up and do what they say, or they’re going to punish you.