Leveraging the address book as your social network

Think about it: your list of friends, family, colleagues and casual acquaintances is not on Facebook or Linkedin. It’s in your pocket, in your phone’s address book and your email address book. If you’re smart you keep them in sync, too. Your address book is your social network.

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I’ve talked about this often, including developers of GNOME Evolution and Thunderbird because I felt that both groups are missing an opportunity. The address book is one of the most important features of an email client as it can enrich the reading and writing experience. The list of people you have in there can be used to sort out priorities for reading your mail. For example, the client could automatically sort messages from family and put them up in the queue when you read email in the early morning while email from colleagues are demoted to low priority until you have your coffee. The address book could also fetch information about your contacts from the web and show you what that person on that mailing list has been up to lately.

I realized today that Google has finally started leveraging the address book on Gmail adding the “people widget” to the conversation view. Imagine you’re reading a discussion in your inbox: the widget shows the information you have about them in the address book, their recent activity with them and more. I think it’s awesome use of your original social network. Too bad you have to surrender your list of friends, colleagues, family etc to Google in order to use this feature.

Hopefully Thunderbird and GNOME Evolution developers will invest more energy into making the address book more meaningful than just a place to dump data in.


About the people widget – Gmail Help.

The good news is Google+ and there is the bad news too

Google seems to have done it right this time: Google+ looks like a credible implementation of a social strategy. Whatever that means, of course. Compared to the other half baked recent initiatives like Buzz or Wave, Google+ seems to have a much wider scope, it’s not just another product: it’s a foundation where all other Google services and products can build upon. Adding a social layer to search, Picasa, Gmail, Android and all other Google things was the best way for Google to leverage its own social graph and fulfill its mission to organize information in the world.

The bad news first: I said before that Facebook is the anti-internet. Facebook is just one website for 600 million people, instead of being 600 million websites of people. Google+  seem to have the same issue, it has the same approach: give us all of your information, we’ll store it in our website, mine all your data and we’ll serve you better advertising. Their business model is the same: tell us who you like, who your friends are, where you like to go to party and who you meet with and [Google|Facebook] and we will serve you to advertisers. That’s their business model and they don’t have the luxury of a different one. The risks for privacy are the same, you get to be better spied and censored in case you say something that the government doesn’t like.

Where is the good news? The good news is that Google+ can demonstrate to all the users that they don’t have to put all their data in Facebook in order to get valuable information. The success of Google+ will show that there are alternatives and that change is a good thing. This paves the way to other changes and innovation, including to the FreedomBox. Having alternatives is good, they bring choice and they help breaking the habits. One more reason to push on the accelerators and build the FreedomBox.

Update: XKCD talks about Google+ too.

The cloud of spies

Microsoft is not hiding the sad and cruel truth: you’re not safe from being spied when you put your data in the cloud.

Any data which is housed, stored or processed by a company, which is a U.S. based company or is wholly owned by a U.S. parent company, is vulnerable to interception and inspection by U.S. authorities.

via Microsoft admits Patriot Act can access EU-based cloud data | ZDNet.

Bitcoin value bites the dust

I would have not put real dollars in Bitcoin before and I’m less interested in doing that now that Mt.Gox one of the most prominent Bitcoin exchanges was attacked. More than 60.000 accounts were stolen and with a series of trading operations the value of the virtual currency went from about $17.50 in worth to just pennies in a few hours, with an estimated $40m worth of bitcoins traded.

If this is a problem of security of one site or of the whole Bitcoin infrastructure is, in my opinion, irrelevant: I do not trust the system (yet) enough to pour real dollars in it.

via FT Alphaville » George Clooney roils the Bitcoin market.

Things I said on 2011-06-26

Pencil Project for GUI prototyping

I was looking for a GUI prototyping tool that I could use to draft a new skin for a website and also for an Android application. I knew of Balsamiq but I prefer not to use non-free software when possible. I found Pencil Project, an awesome open source prototyping tool built on top of Mozilla’s XUL runner.

The Pencil Project’s unique mission is to build a free and opensource tool for making diagrams and GUI prototyping that everyone can use.

It seems to be working just fine for my needs. Awesome!

Awesome night at BALug presenting FreedomBox

Last night I was lucky enough to talk to great people at the Bay Area Linux User Group. The group meets in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Good food, nice bar (I had a Campari with Soda, inspired by an Italian-American fellow GNU/Linux user) and great company. There were about 20 people so we met to talk in the bar after dinner. No fancy projectors to hook my computer to but luckily I brought my slides with notes printed.

We had a nice conversation around privacy, hardware specs of the DreamPlug, the status of ARM Linux, the choice of Debian and more.

I pitched the idea to start developing a mobile app to exchange private information and OpenPGP fingerprints and got at least one person interested in going to the Hackaton in Mountain View this weekend. If you’re interested to join the effort let me know. To keep in touch with FreedomBox Foundation’s activities check the discuss page.

Apple forces bad user experience on Funambol

I installed Funambol on an iOS device to test it and all went well… until I tried to sync the pictures. I was greeted with the request to allow Funambol to access my location, request that I promptly denied. Why on the planet would Funambol want to know where I am? Smelling that Apple may have to do with this, I asked Funambol developers who confirmed that this is due to the nature of the ALAsset API from Apple.  Apparently I’m not the only one to think that iOS ALAssetsLibrary is broken.

What is broken is not only the user experience, but also the bad habit that Apple is spreading: users should pay attention to the permissions they grant to apps and deny to run those that make unreasonable requests. Mobile phones are computers and everybody should keep in mind that apps have access to personal data stored on the phone. Everybody should check that apps have permission only to access the minimum necessary to operate. Are you installing an app to sync addressbook and pictures? The app should ask permission to read/write addressbook and pictures. Not to read location!

Things I said on 2011-06-19

  • .@glynmoody Doesn't an open standard needs wide adoption and a reference implementation? Isn't ASL more effective as reference+adoption? #
  • The good old trick. http://lnkd.in/FwYdTA #
  • Something to keep in mind: The Next Bubble – Don’t Get Fooled Again http://steveblank.com/2011/06/15/the-next-bubble-dont-get-fooled-again/ #
  • Mozilla Marketing team is getting ready for Firefox 5 launch next week. Community briefing happening now #
  • !Firefox mobile is here to stay: momentum, innovation, user control http://is.gd/FjWDwv #
  • !firefox 5 will have Do Not Track in the Privacy Pane and 3D HTML5 Video, CSS animations and Add-On Builder! #
  • Starting from !Firefox 5 updates will be available from the browser. No more 'Follow this link to upgrade' #
  • Next week release of !Firefox 5 will support this kind of 3D video on YouTube http://is.gd/QPr3T8 #
  • Get to know the !FreedomBox project in San Francisco: speaking at BALug June 21st, you're invited http://is.gd/G3k4lO (please RT) #
  • note to self: check this out. Online video editing from Mozilla Foundation http://butterapp.com/butter/ #
  • Interviews w/ Internet activists who have fueled the recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain http://is.gd/VtLhme cc #freedomboxfndn #