Mat Newman June 2 2010 23:40:00Over on the Notes Design Blog, a side-post from Sheri Branco asks users to complete a contacts survey (post below, including link) ...
The questions on the survey are fairly rudimentary and ask some basic questions about your use of Notes, Social Networking, and other tools contacts features.
It prompted me to write this post.
I believe it should be essential for a very near release of Lotus Notes to synchronise and maintain contacts across disparate systems, with full control in the hands of the user. The key point being "in the hands of the user".
From our work on the ISW Wildfire plug-in, I know how (relatively) easy it now is to use API's from other providers to talk to their systems, so sure; I can program the functionality I want into the Notes client, but as history has shown with Notes - if it's not provided out the box - a majority of Notes customers will not implement custom/third-party features within their environment.
My experience has shown that many organisations will lock down Notes so hard that users can do very little in the way of extending the Notes client. I personally believe that many users gripes with Notes are not because "Notes can't do that", it because either:
- Admins have not enabled features (either through fear or Ignorance), or
- The users have had no education within the Notes framework beyond [New Memo] and [Reply].
There are two features that I would love to see within Notes when it comes to contacts:
1. a Synchronisation utility that would allow you to INTEGRATE contacts from another system, and
2. a Contact recogniser that would allow me to automatically add contact details from either SELECTED or RECOGNISED text within a Note (email).
As our contact needs become more fluid, the requirement to manage and maintain contact information is increased. Yes, there are great tools that allow users to import and export contact data from different systems such as Corporate address books, personal contact lists and Social Networking sites, but there is not ONE tool that does it all for you (I stand ready to be corrected). And again, Yes, most of the social networking sites have Outlook integrators - but this is only because of the accessibility of Outlook data from outside of the Outlook application (virus plagued security risk anyone?).
One of the things I find myself explaining constantly to new users of Notes, is that some things just aren't as easy to perform as they are in other systems for one major reason: Security.
It's the old story "everything talks to Outlook". Yes, in many cases that's true. But mostly that's because the data available within Outlook is accessible using Microsoft's development tools, on a Microsoft Operating System, and probably using a Microsoft Browser.
So here's the point - those in the Inner Sanctum of the Yellowverse (hello IBM design/development team) MUST make it possible for users to import/export and most importantly SYNCHRONISE contact information natively from with the Notes Contacts application.
Relying on someone to post such a tool to OpenNTF will automatically exclude many of the Notes users who are already screaming that Notes can't synch my contacts. As I mentioned earlier - it HAS to be provided by IBM out of the box.
If you have seen Gist, you will know where I'm heading with this. If you have SameTime enabled within your organisation, you know what the "bubble" (Business Card) is. Included with Notes 8 was a new feature called "Collaboration History". Finally, if you've installed WildFire! you know how you can retrieve a news stream from virtually any Social Networking (including public and corporate systems) sites that you are a member of.
Contact INTEGRATION within the Notes environment beyond a single "Messaging ID" (check your contacts application - the feature is already there!) would enable identification across multiple networks, while also providing a unique ID that could be used to synchronise selected data with that service provider. The inclusion of an additional "Synch" tab might allow me to choose what level of information I synch from my personal address book to an external contact list.
Once these features were in place (rather than just a single "Messaging ID", I could include Twitter Name, Facebook Name, LinkedIn Name, etc) they would allow a wider concept of "AWARENESS" and "COLLABORATION HISTORY" when reviewing information in the context of an identified contact.
The down-side to this - and the reason we probably won't see a feature such as integration built natively into Notes - is the reliance on external API's to provide the synch and integration features that a simple change to the Notes Contacts application might provide. Again, as our experience with WildFire! has shown, you simply can not rely on an API from an external provider not to be modified at any point in time, breaking the functionality you have built within your application (in this case Notes).
I can just imagine IBM building a Facebook synch feature into contacts, only to have it broken because Facebook decides to modify a function within their API. Yep that would potentially cause 140+ million users cursing Notes for not synching their Friend's details!
Ok, so we probably won't see IBM building a synch tool into contacts any time soon, but the other contact-centric feature that I have been playing with on-and-off for a few years is contact recognition.
At present Notes has an "Add Sender to Address Book/Contacts" feature. Although the "Add Sender" function is useful - there are many instances where I look at an email and my live-text has underlined the Phone-Numbers, Address and http links included within the mail signature within the message content. It would be GREAT if the "Add Sender" feature was able to identify the block of text that follows the content of most email messages that includes the senders name, phone, address and other contact details and was able to include these in the "Add Sender" dialog box. It would be fantastic if the dialog that follows selecting "Add Sender" also let the user add/reorganise the identified contact detail as necessary. Enhanced drag-and-drop in Notes 8.5 would make this much easier if the recogniser didn't quite get it right.
Having attempted on several occasions to program this functionality myself, I know that this would be a HUGE feature to implement - but WOW! How nice would that be?
The essential starting point for any collaboration system - it's nice to see IBM asking questions on how it might be improved - thanks guys!