Tuesday, May 6, 2008

PRM: Personal Relationship Management

Continuing on the "messaging" theme I started in on a while ago, here's a deeper dive on the role of contacts and contact management, a.k.a. "Personal Relationship Management" (thanks to Om Malik for pointing me to a topical post by Tristan Louis). Here's how Tristan defines it:
"...provide me with a high level contact overview (listing all the ways to get in touch with someone), and then allow me to drill on the different conversations I’ve had with the person across a variety of systems (Email, IM, phone, social nets) as well as give me an overview of what they’ve been up to thanks to a status message and socially aware apps screen."
The macro theme here is the quest to reintegrate all the distributed personas - ours and others' - that have been created across the range of Web-based services we all use. FriendFeed skims the surface of this need with their newsfeed approach, but there's a more fundamental need that has yet to be addressed by any company I'm aware of.

Tristan's summary (quoted above) is headed in the right direction by including message history, but there are a few more needs I'd like to throw into the mix for this fantasy service to truly solve the problem:
  • First and most importantly, the universe of "embedded media" that come with most email exchanges these days - links, file attachments, etc. - needs to be folded in, as they are often the real content payload of the messaging exchange.
  • Second, as online collaboration becomes more commonplace, the system must take into account these new co-authored documents (e.g., wiki pages, Google Docs, Zoho, etc.) as "social artifacts" relevant to a fully inclusive view of my social interactions.
This is starting to sound dangerously meta, but I think it's where we'll wind up if current trends are any guide. The real point is that no single vector - contacts, messaging, or files - is as useful on its own as an integrated datastore that maintains relevant linkages among these content types and allows me to query based on combinations that make sense to me, e.g., "show me all files containing the keyword 'semantic' that are connected to my friend Andy and timestamped December of last year".

My contacts aren't vCard files, they're people I communicate and collaborate with over time; my Personal Relationship Management system needs to reflect that fact. All the required technology building blocks for this PRM suite are readily available, so it's only a matter of time before we start to see versions of this idea hit the market. Seen anything like this already? Let me know.