Your first social network was your address book. It was a pain-in-the-neck to manage but you owned and controlled all the data. With services like Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, there’s a temptation to not even bother spending much time maintaining your own address book any more. It’s too much work and it’s gets outdated too quickly.
Of course, the danger is that you no longer control the data or the relationships.
A new app called Addappt, which launched into a wider invite-only beta on Tuesday (we can get you an invite), wants to provide you with the best of both worlds. It is an address book where you control the data but it automatically gets updated as your contacts change their email, mobile number, snail mail address, etc.
In addition to being highly useful, the app also sees itself as a data liberation crusade.
"Just like newspapers or cable companies don't want technology companies to own the relationship with their customers, we should not let corporations own our relationships, our social networks," said Mrinal Desai (right), CEO and co-founder of addappt, who was also the first head of business development at Linkedin in a previous life.
“When we own the data -- which was always ours from the day we created our physical address book -- we have the choice to reach who matters when, where and how we wish,” said Desai. “Most corporations exist to increase the value of their shareholders, not that of our relationships, unfortunately.”
The way addappt works is that you download the app, give it permission to access your address book, and then fill out your own addappt address book record. Then, addappt goes out and automatically tries to connect you to your contacts who are also already on addappt, based on email addresses.
Once you are connected to someone on addappt, whenever you update your contact information it automatically updates your address book entry in all of your friends’ address books, and vise versa when they update theirs. When you meet new people, you can ask them if they are on addappt and simply plug in their email address to connect with them. If they accept the friend request, and then their contact information is automatically imported into your address book.
One of the things that I really like about addappt is that it has a two-way sync with my smartphone’s address book, so that any contacts that get updated through addappt are also updated in my built-in address book, which means those updated contacts are available to my phone, text messaging, and other apps that use the built-in address book.
It’s just a smarter way to do an address book, and very low-touch.
It uses the cloud for syncing and updating, much the same way that Dropbox and Evernote work, except that addappt doesn’t store your data on its servers. That’s critical, because contact information is extremely valuable and a company could use that data to make a lot of money. Desai stated that addappt does not store any contact information on its servers and will not spam or sell any of your contact lists.
In addition to syncing, addappt also acts as a presentation layer for making your address book more friendly to use. For example, on each of your contacts where an address is listed, addappt has an overlay that automatically shows you the local time for that contact. The addappt UI also makes it a little easier to flip through your contacts and then call, email, text, or even video call with just one tap.
Quick tip: Linkedin, Facebook, and Google offer ways to download/sync your contact information to your phone’s address book. If you’re into the data liberation aspect of addappt, then you could download all of your contact info from those services and then disconnect the sync option and you’d have made a private copy of your social network graph. Alternatively, you can remain connected to those services and every time you add new friends on your social network they get added to your private address book.
While I love the simplicity of addappt, there are a couple features I would like to see it add. One would be to add groups and allow me the option to decide which contact info I want to share with the different groups. For example, I don’t necessarily want to share my private (non-work) mobile number or my home address with everyone I’m connected with. I’d like to have a Family/Friends group, a Colleagues group, and an Industry Contacts group. I’d enable different sharing with each of those groups. The other nice addition would be the option to store my contacts on addappt’s servers so that I could view them in a web interface and I could potentially download my always-updated contact list to a new device or service when I set it up.
Keep in mind that for now, addappt is only available for iOS. Desai said his team is looking at Android and other mobile platforms to potentially launch addappt. The app is free and Desai said it will always be free, but that they will likely offer some useful add-on features as in-app purchases in the future.
For the last several months, addappt has been invitation-only within a diverse focus group of early testers. It was a bit of a beta test and it still feels beta in some ways. The app never crashed during my tests with it, but it did drop my contact profile at one point and I had to re-enter my information. It also downscaled my hi-res profile photo for some reason and didn’t allow me to enter a second website into my profile. However, my overall experience with the app was good and I think it’s a useful service that is definitely on the right track.
Desai said that now that the app is running reliably and the team has tweaked it based on the initial feedback, the team is ready to open it up to a larger group of users, but it will remain invitation-only until sometime in early 2013.
Desai said, “Keeping it invite-only helps us to listen to our users better, build out the product better and … to scale well. A few well-served and delighted users is more important to us than many without the same attention and level of satisfaction.”
If you are reading this article and you’d like to try addappt before its broader 2013 release then you can get an addappt invite.
Desai said that ZDNet readers can follow these steps:
1.) Install app
2.) Enter email address in the field provided (we recommend an email they share most with their contacts)
3.) Tap 'request invite' button (this button turns into 'Sign In' when an invite code is entered)
4.) Type 'ZDNet' in the body of the email request
5.) 'Send' email