Sunday, February 11, 2007

Do You Know Where Your Contacts Are Tonight?

Down the technology garden path we have innocently trod.

Let me not mince words here. AOL is known among techies as AO-Hell, and for good reason. Having made millions bringing millions of people into the sequestered Internet Garden of AOL, the company had a responsibility to let go of them gently when they were through squeezing money out of them. They didn't. It's the American way.

Few clients still have an AOL account, but for those who do, getting your contact information out of AOL is not an easy task. AOL has deliberately crafted the AOL software to make your journey elsewhere painful and difficult. Extracting contact information from AOL should be done earlier, not later. This is one unpleasant task.

Much the same warning can be said about Eudora. Though not as egregiously offensive as AOL, the company built an e-mail client incapable of exporting nicknames in a friendly fashion.

The only positive spin I can place on the current status of storing contact information electronically is that we can learn from the Pied Piper of AOL. Know where your contacts are, and know whether or not you can take them with you when you go. If any definitive statement can be offered about the future of technology it is that divorce is a certainty. As the Greek geek Heraclitus so wisely noted on the nature of computer technology, "Nothing endures but change."

I can guarantee that the application you're using now to store your contact list will not exist in five, or ten years. Long time? Not so. AOL captured millions ten years ago, and many are discovering the thorns along their garden path only now. As well, Eudora was once my cherished e-mail application, but it's forgotten now except for two or three lingering brain cells.

Know where thou contacts reside, and know whether or not that repository can export your contact data. Some current applications, such as Apple Address Book and MS-Entourage, have relatively easy exits. Others do not. The moral of the AOL story is not to store contact data in any application in which you can't easily get at it. Your favorite contact application today will surely be the technology dead end of a not-so-distant tomorrow.

Knowing where your contacts are tonight may spare you days of agony tomorrow. (...back them up, too, but that's another parable.)

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