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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Keeping Your Contact Details Fresh

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Listen to my interview with Todd Miller, president and founder of gwabbit, which uses semantic technology to instantly grab and store contact information from emails in your Outlook or Blackberry inbox. This podcast is part I of a two-part interview. Part II discusses how Gwabbit has A Virtual Office and No Need for VCs.

In Part I below, find out about a one-click method for transferring all the contact information in an email signature block into your mail client's address book, and learn how a cloud service could help keep everyone's contact information up-to-date on professional networks like LinkedIn.

Listen to or download the 7:14 minute podcast below:

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PW: Todd, thanks for joining us today. And I'm really pleased you could do that, because on the Connected Web, we're always interested in talking about how the Web is changing the way companies operate and do business. And I know Gwabbit as a company breaks several of the conventional wisdoms about the new economy, which will be very interesting to talk about. But before we get into that, let's just make sure that you get the chance to tell us exactly what Gwabbit does — because I think that's quite an interesting story as well.

TM: Sure. Gwabbit solves the problem that has bugged me for a long time, which is that when I get an email from someone, and there's a contact in the signature line, if I want to put that contact into my address book, I have to cut and paste the contact one line at a time. And it takes a long time to do that. In fact, we've timed it and on average, it takes about one minute and 15 seconds to cut and paste all of the — one line at a time.

Todd, I hate that — I hate that. In fact, I never do it. I just search the inbox these days to get contact details.

Sure. And I think many if not most people do that. I call it dumpster diving in your inbox. And it takes a long time to do that too, particularly with some tools like Outlook. If you have a lot of email in your inbox, it can take quite a while to search through there to find the contact that you're looking for. So what I really wanted, when I got an email, is something that would pop up and say, 'There's a contact in this email, do you want me to put it into your address book?' And then just be able to click and it's there. So that's what Gwabbit does. And so we have a Gwabbit for both Microsoft Outlook as well as Blackberry, and we have other Gwabbits for other devices in development.

Right. And it scoops up all of the contact details, not just the email address and the name and stuff?

That's correct. So we're looking at the entire signature line contact, and we're parsing that information into the appropriate fields. So we're looking at the name, the title, the company name, the address, phone, fax, email, etcetera, and we're putting all that information into the appropriate places.

And how many clicks does that take?

That takes one click.

Hey, [laughs] that sounds pretty useful. Okay, but if the technology exists to do that, why aren't the inbox vendors doing this inside the inbox anyway?

Well, I think that that's a terrific question. And in fact, that was a question that many reporters were asking after we unveiled Gwabbit at Demo in March of this year. I think one of the publications actually said, this is a head-slappingly simply solution to a grating problem. And they just couldn't understand why others like Microsoft hadn't done this before. And interestingly, in Mac Mail, on the Macintosh, they do have a function built in that does something like this, though it's not automatic like Gwabbit is. You actually have to mouse over the contact, but then you can import into the address book.

I actually use it all the time. Even so, we've had a lot of requests from Mac users asking us to actually develop a version of the product both for Mac Mail as well as for Entourage. Even though that function exists in Mac Mail, they find that it's not automatic enough. They want something like Gwabbit that actually pops up alerts to the user and just has a button there that's convenient for the user to push.

So you're looking at moving out to other platforms, are you? Because it strikes me that this would be equally useful in Gmail.

Yes, we're looking at all the web mail services of Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etcetera. We're also looking at Android and we're looking at iPhone. iPhone presents some interesting challenges simply because the email function is embedded within the operating system and that's not presently something that is part of the API that Apple makes available. But it's something that we've had tremendous demand for and it's something that we really want to make available.

Yeah, I guess you might get accused of changing the look and feel of the iPhone if you meddled with that, but that's another story. When you go into the cloud of course, there are lots of contact managers out there already — things like LinkedIn and Spoke and — what's the other one? I don't know, oh — Plaxo, that people have used in the past. So you get more competition there I guess.

Well, that raises an interesting point. We're essentially on a two-track development path for Gwabbit. One is to develop Gwabbits for the various devices that we've discussed and platforms. The other track that we're looking at is a contact cloud, and it speaks to a different problem that I see out in the industry. That's the problem of 'universal remote control,' if you will, for contact information. Now, as you indicated, others like LinkedIn and Plaxo have attempted to address that problem and what they've done is — and they've taken a good stab at this I think — they're trying to sync up contact cloud information with the various repositories where that lives, which is something [that] is certainly needed.

But the problem with these kinds of products is the content itself. How do you keep that content fresh and current? And right now, the products and services that are out there tend to rely on the user to manually refresh that information. And I think that's a fundamental problem with these clouds today. So what we're envisioning is a cloud model where the content is kept current and refreshed automagically with Gwabbit devices. We're looking for Gwabbits to feed contact information into that cloud and to refresh it whenever it changes.

Right. So using a kind of crowd sourcing model for the accuracy of content information, rather than relying on users to update it themselves. Because I always find that the only time people really update these contact systems that, like LinkedIn directories and so on, is either when they first get started with it, or when they think they might be changing jobs and then it becomes front of mind. But the rest of the time, it's not front of mind. There's always something else — I mean, I'm particularly bad at this — there's always something else that's more urgent to do than updating one's LinkedIn profile.

Yes, I think you're exactly right. And so we're actually looking for something that will keep that contact fresh in between those two bookends.

Right. Well, thank you. We'll be coming back in a second part.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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