Reclaiming the Rolodex

Facebook is the new RolodexI’d like to talk about the statement to the left, made by Brian Devine via Twitter yesterday morning. (I should mention that it caught my attention when it was forwarded by Jonathan Rick, who, in case you’re wondering, I met in person first and then connected with online.)

I completely agree with Brain: I do believe that Facebook and other online networks – loosely defined – such as LinkedIn and Google have become the contact management systems du jour.

The problem, and what worries me, is that we, as individuals, had full control of the data in our Rolodexes of yesteryear. We chose when to add, when to remove, when to edit contacts. And that Rolodex was ours to keep, save any unfortunate circumstances (I’m thinking natural disasters here), for as long as we wanted no matter where we went.

Now, we are at the mercy of these companies. For example, I use Google Contacts to stay in touch – by e-mail and phone – to friends, family, colleagues, and former classmates around the world. But let’s say that Google decided one day without warning to stop supporting that feature? I would be left with no numbers or emails addresses for any of my closest contacts. And, at least with Google Contacts, I am able to export all the data I’ve inputed into the system and take it to another provider or save it on my comptuer (or another location) for safekeeping.

Neither Facebook (nor LinkedIn nor MySpace) allow anything of the sort. (It should be noted that Facebook, in its infancy, did have this feature enabled. With its epic growth, however, I think Facebook thought that for privacy reasons, enabling users to exports the contact information of other users they connected to through the site could be dangerous.)

Where does that leave us? What happens if our account were to get hacked or accidentally deleted? I’m sure many of you shudder at the thought of losing all those connections (and pictures and videos and messages and everything else that’s now contained within the site).

When I said this all to Jonathan (in less than 140 characters!), he replied: “Since we all use Facebook voluntarily, if we disagree with the Terms Of Service, then we should stop“. He has a good point. BUT – because that’s where the majority of our contacts are active, we miss out by not participating in the service. So, we’re stuck in between a rock and a hard place since there’s not much we can do, is there?

I can’t offer a solution (other than to reiterate how important backing up and creating copies of such information truly is) but I do continue to hope that in this era of collaboration, Facebook as well as other services can find a balance between user privacy, a competitive advantage and allowing users to own and manipulate their data in a suitable manner.

  • http://piecesofg.typepad.com/ David

    While I agree that there was a day when people used a Rolodex, I find it hard to believe that you ever really did at the ripe young age of (nearly) 24. At 34 I haven’t had anything resembling a Rolodex in over a decade.

    I’ve always been somewhat at the mercy of “technology” for storing my contacts. When I got my Palm III back in the 90s, I had to fully believe it would contain my data and would not crash on me. And it largely fulfilled that promise. Being able to back that data up on the computer means that today I still have some pretty obscure contact information in my Google Contacts/iPhone from my Palm days.

    I use FB as a great resource to gather contact info from people – but I don’t rely on FB as my go to source for that data. I take it, manipulate it, and store it where I have control and better access. For me that also is Google Contacts synced with my iPhone.

    Sure Google Contacts could crash on us. But I’m willing to bet we’d have a bit of warning before it bit the dust and we could save our data. Even if that meant we had to put it in Excel (egads!) in the interim until the next thing came along.

  • http://JonathanRick.com Jonathan Rick

    Hey Julie,

    Good post.

    In fact, your concerns point up the larger debate about cloud computing. Here’s my two sense:

    The fear of storing data in the cloud appears risky because it’s so now. But storing data on your hard drive isn’t risk-free, either. What if the hard drive crashes? What if there’s an earthquake or a robbery? What if you contract a virus that deletes your files?

    As you said, the solution in both scenarios is to back-up.

    Also, a side note: For $50/year, you can secure a little peace of mind by using Google Apps, which comes with customer support if disaster strikes, instead of the free version of Google Contacts.

  • http://twitter.com/julieminevich/statuses/3411368305 julieminevich (Julie Minevich)

    Twitter Comment


    Great comments from @GDSlyPig & @jrick on Reclaiming the Rolodex: How contrl over contct data has shfted & why it mattrs: [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

    • http://twitter.com/jrick/statuses/3411426305 jrick (Jonathan Rick)

      Twitter Comment


      @julieminevich Thanks! BTW, just realized there’s a typo in my comment. “Now” should be “new.”

      Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/julieminevich/statuses/3405059723 julieminevich (Julie Minevich)

    Twitter Comment


    NEW BLOG POST: “Reclaiming the Rolodex” – How control over contact data has shifted & why it matters: [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  • http://twitter.com/jrick/statuses/3406251497 jrick (Jonathan Rick)

    Twitter Comment


    RT @julieminevich NEW BLOG POST: “Reclaiming the Rolodex” – How control over contact data has shifted & why it matters: [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher