The integration of telephony into Google Gmail this week is realization of a long standing desire on my part to be able to easily initiate a phone call from my contact list. For phone intensive users, like reporters, the ability to search for a contact, hit a call button, and be connected in seconds can’t be underestimated.
While Google’s move was judged a Skype-killer by some, the war is not on who’s platform initiates the call, but what contact list dominates the user’s attention. Contact management is a massive pain in the ass — the history of Personal Information Management starting with flat file databases like AskSam in the 1980s, up through Lotus Organizer, ACT! then Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes — all seemed to divide a user’s world between the enterprise directory and their own personal method of organizing friends, phone numbers, email address, birthdays, etc.. Migrating a contact list from one system to another was an evil process of CSV export files and the usual comma-delimited b.s. designed to lock one’s world into a single system. Throw a cell phone into the mix, and things became uglier and uglier to sync.
Skype’s contact management is meager — essentially no more than a list of names on a par with any standard IM client. It doesn’t integrate with one’s other lists and stands alone, as a window within a window, with few hooks out to other contact management services.
Google has underplayed its contact management capabilities in Gmail, but it is obvious that of its suite of applications, Gmail is become the keystone and as such, some overdue attention is being paid to contact management. Adding the capability to call from that list is a wonderful feature, and Skype and others need to quickly build hooks into those lists and make it possible to extend their client or risk being stranded on their own desert island.