GNOME Contacts: What we really need

Posted on December 15, 2010

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To read the second part, please follow [this link].

This is the first part about how we think our favourite address book application should look like, what is needed to get to it and the reasoning behind it. It introduces the basic idea of an address book and analyses other implementations. Comments, ideas, suggestions and small ponies are always welcome. Computers and mobile devices are changing and evolving at a tremendous speed, however one of the main reasons for you to use a computer stays the same: people. It’s all about them, from social networking to chatting to collaborating and working with them. And nevertheless the software enabling us to do this got stuck in the last years and is stagnating. Addressbooks simply suck. Even though this is a very important topic for each computer user, we are still lacking a good contact central. Social networks step in here and act as a replacement for that software.

During the GNOME Hackfest in Munich we, that is Daniel G. Siegel, Fabian Sturm, Felix Kaser, Michael Kanis, Salomon Sickert and Sebastian Faubel, tried to analyze our current situation and to come up with something which really could be useful for people. In the following we will propose an address book which we think is done right and will cover most use cases people have.

Why are social networks so popular? Well, one reason is certainly that you can keep contact with your friends and mates even when they moved to a different city, lost their mobile phone, changed their e-mail address and stopped using Jabber. And that is simply because people don’t have to manage their full addressbook, but only their own personal contact details. Those are then made available and everybody has at any given point in time the correct contact information and a working link to a specific person. Additionally you only have one place where different contact details are aggregated and such platforms act as a central starting point for starting a conversation with others. Looking at the current state in GNOME we can see that contact details are vastly scattered around. Your mail addresses are stored in Evolution, your chat contacts are stored in Empathy, your phone numbers are stored on your mobile phone, your social network contacts are still not available on your computer.

In most mobile phones the addressbooks are simpler, cleaner and better to use – despite the small screen, the limited hardware and input problems. They act as central storage for all contacts, like social networks are trying to. They pull data from various places and aggregate it into one central storage, where any person can simply have up-to-date information of all his contacts and use that information easily. Remember, that it is not only about e-mail addresses, but about every single information you want to connect to a specific person, for example her anniversary or her bank account in case you need to send her money.

So, why doesn’t exist something like that on the desktop? Well, it is not easy at all to design something like this and make it work like it is supposed to. But this is what we want to solve: simple, elegant and easy contact managing. A single point of aggregation for all contacts. An addressbook which is capable of keeping track of your contacts. A program which is capable of helping you. A place you do not have to feed yourself, but will feed you. Our starting point was a great mockup done by Allan Day.

Design wise this is a very good and clean design, and we quickly started to adapt it to our needs. Read our second part about our vision of GNOME Contacts to see what happened with it.

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