Originally Published 2008-04-03 23:08:59
I have an interesting problem. I need to solve this for both my own business and for a client (the new one, actually, whose network apparently destroys NetGear Products).
What I Want
- Shared "global" address book across 1-20 users. Some sort of consolidation tools would be a nice value-add.
- The address book needs to have some sort of categorization capability. In my case, for instance, I'd probably start with "Tenants", "Clients", "Vendors", "Friends & Family", "Everyone Else" and possibly "Women". Maybe a "People I Keep in My Contact List so I Recognize the Caller ID and Don't Pick Up the Phone" category, too.
- Shared"global"calendaring. I want to see my calendar, my vendors/contractor's calendars, and my assistant's calendar. Yes, all at once. Yes, on my Blackberry in real time.
- Versatility in supported clients. Supported clients list should minimally include Thunderbird with the Lightening plugin, my Blackberry via over the air (OTA) automatic synchronization, the web via a desktop browser, and Outlook. Blackberry via the Handheld Web Browser, as cool as it has become (hey, whatever happened to AvantGo?) is not acceptable. I want integration with the Blackberry calendar, or no-go. You can alternatively have me install a custom client, but it has to be worth it. The GMail client, for instance, is almost "worth it". I still use the native Blackberry mail application more often. Integrated Mailbox + Hardware Integration (yes, that often-annoying blinking red light) readily trumps the Gmail email threading excellence (think of Gmail's conversation-centric view, which was the original Outlook killer for me).
- Support of the iCalendar standard so that the rest of the world can interact with event invitations.
- Hosted so I don't have to worry about data integrity or location. I move a lot, the management of a server just for this limited set of features isn't worth the cost, and... it's just the way of the future. If I had enough clients who needed it, I might host the server myself, but that's productization and entrepreneurship, not a solution to my needs. That is, that's me building this because I can't find a viable alternative.
- Cheap. For somewhere around $100 a month, I can throw up an Exchange server on a dedicated Windows box with all the fixin's. I'm not going to do that, but it's a worthwhile metric for deciding what to pay.
- Nice to have bonus: Integration of a specific group of contacts (Clients and Vendors, in this case) with QuickBooks. I don't think QuickBooks has the hook for this, however, so I realize this is a pipe dream.
Possible Solutions for Consideration
If you sign-on for the full-fledged, take-over-your-domain version of Google Apps (this isn't just a shared spreadsheet, they want you to use gmail as your corporate email client), you can share an address book and your calendar. In fact, I already share my calendar, and as long as my vendors and contractors use (or sync with) Google Calendar and give me permission to see their schedules, I'm all set. Blackberry support is there, and despite having to reinstall the Google Sync application every time I reset my gmail password, I'm overall impressed with the features and dependability of the software.
The only problem is the address book. Contact management is miserable in Gmail. I've gotten stuck clicking randomly every time I've desired to add detail to a contact. It's not intuitive, it adds everyone who I ever email to my contact list (hmm, email@example.com is a contact of mine? who knew?), it lacks the categorization features, and it doesn't OTA sync with my Blackberry. Four strikes and your out.
Task management, contact management, and calendaring in a nice new Web 2.0 interface? Cool.
Shared all around with lots of permissions preferences? Groovy.
Send an email to add a task? Nice.
Integration with...? Uh oh. Sure, you can import and export using all kinds of midway techniques, but you can't even install a Thunderbird plugin for synchronizing, let alone do OTA Blackberry access.
Those two are showstoppers. Sorry, backbase. I might still use your email-to-task system for some fringe case uses (my assistant seems to like it, for instance), but you aren't getting my dollars or my contact list. Highrise charges a sliding-scale monthly fee once you surpass a relatively minimal number of contacts.
Heck, if all I needed was the Thunderbird Plugin, I might write it myself. But the lack of any synchronization tools whatsoever is pretty disappointing. C'mon, guys.
Plaxo has done an amazing job of integrating with everyone and everything. This blog entry will probably get posted on "Plaxo Pulse" to some significant subset of the 1800 contacts in my address book. Take that, blog spammers!
Seriously, now, Plaxo has sync'd with Facebook, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Outlook, and a million other sites and services I'll never use. The integration is pretty solid, although I had to use Outlook as a go-between to get my contacts on my Blackberry. And the beauty of Plaxo is that the social networking aspects of it mean that I'll never have to update someone's contact info again. As long as they're a member, of course. And yes, it's free.
There is trouble in paradise, however. First of all, Plaxo has no tools for removing duplicates. So it sync'd against a half dozen different services (including my mobile phone handset, which doesn't have any meta data at all) and except where there was an exact email address match, I have multiple entries galore. And while I really do have 15 Laura/Laurens in my phone, I definitely don't know 14 Kevins. So those 1800 contacts are probably more like 600. Dammit. I thought I was popular.
I also cannot share contacts with anyone else.
That's enough of a drag to cross it off the list. I haven't even looked at the more recently released Calendar features, because the inability to share my address book is a deal-breaker. Next.
Does the product I'm looking for really not exist? Am I left to consider building it myself or living without?
On 2008-04-09 10:01:59 Samanta said:
May I leave here my comment? Very interesting article, thanks for the info.
On 2008-04-09 14:03:12 Dropship said:
hmm, i think what you may be looking for they have at hyper office. im not 100% sure but it wouldnt hurt to look into. [http://www.hyperoffice.com]
On 2008-05-15 22:48:32 Cirtex said:
Good info thanks for the sharing.
On 2009-07-08 11:01:16 Ariel said:
I ended at this post through a google search. I was wondering if you ever found the solution to your (and my) problem... Any insights, much appreciated.