Last week my best friend sat the last exam for his university degree. I am currently living on the opposite side of the world, but I wanted to at least send him a text on his cell phone to wish him good luck and to let him know that I am proud of him. Only days later did I remember that he sent me his new phone number and that I haven’t updated my address book yet.
A better world
I wondered if there couldn’t be a service that would automatically update my phone’s address book whenever one of my contacts changed their phone number. This also means that in case I changed my own phone number, I wouldn’t have to notify all my contacts. Coming from an IT angle, I see this service to be similar to a domain name system (DNS) that translates web site names into IP addresses, only with names of people and phone numbers. The most important feature of a DNS is that “it translates domain names meaningful to humans into the numerical (binary) identifiers associated with networking equipment for the purpose of locating and addressing these devices worldwide.” Ideally, I would like to completely abstract away from phone numbers and only need to remember my friends’ names. After all, I want to reach a person not a phone – just like you want to see a website without caring what server it is hosted on. As with IP addresses, people could be completely oblivious to the fact that there even is a number. In this improved world if I wanted to call someone, I just need to know his name.
Don’t stop there
Phone numbers are of course not the limit. The same approach works for physical addresses, email addresses, or any other means by which you can reach a person. Whenever any of your friends changes their contact details, your phone’s address book automatically updates itself.
Does that mean anyone can find your phone number and your other details just by knowing your name? Or even worse, just randomly pick a number and get your name with it? You probably don’t want that, unless you enjoy spending your time talking to strangers about random polls and lottery tickets. There needs to be some kind of white listing, so you can choose who is allowed to see your details.
Yet another service
This means you and your contacts would have to sign up with this DNS to exchange the right to see each others details. There would probably be a website (with some IP address you don’t care about) to keep your details up-to-date and to manage your contacts. You have your doubts that you will get all, or at least most of your friends, to sign up for yet another website? Granted, but here is the good news: Chances are, you and your friends already have. Long live social networking!
Leverage what you have
With Facebook and Co. growing every day all you need is an application on your phone that logs into your favorite social network and gets the details of your friends and checks for updates from time to time. Only your friends could access your details (if you shall choose so) and you could totally forget about their numbers. After all, you want to call a person with a name, not a phone with a number.
Gmail could be another source of this information. And LDAP could be an under-the-hood technology to deliver the information.