Import/Export: Email Address as Unique Identifier, Force Multiplier

People have riffed on email addresses as unique identifiers for some time now. Heck, any good user database, in my mind, uses email addresses as the unique identifier, because they’ll nudge the user to keep the email address up-to-date. Rex Hammock’s “Twitter joins the email address as universal-identifier club” is just the latest to cross my radar screen, and he does so interestingly enough (for me, anyway, giving what I’m geeking out on these days):

Simply put, I can upload a list of my e-mail contacts to be bounced against their database of registered users and they will tell me who among my contacts are already users of their service. This feature allows me to jump-start the creation of my personal network of users of the service. Some services like Linkedin and Plaxo allow me to export my list of contacts maintained within their “walls” back into my contact list. In other words, they are — in effect — allowing me to brick-by-brick, tear down their walls: They are allowing me the opportunity to export my social network with me when I start using another service. That’s the type of win-win relationship all sites that are “social” in nature should offer their users…and, in the future, no doubt, some form of “persistent network identifier” will be an expected feature of all sites that want me to share with them who my contacts are.

I’m just an amateur networker, but I am one—just ask any of my friends. I look at my Address Book database on my Mac and go, “Just 658 entries? Is that all?” If I call a number twice at work—BOOM! it goes into the iPhone. [And it did that before with the Treo … but now that I’m Jobsian, I can “BOOM!” Ahem.] One of these lazy Saturdays, I’ll sit down with my church’s pictorial directory and input every last scrap of data—and maybe even photos if I can get a scanner hooked up to my Mac. [Mental note: ask Misty for scanner advice.] But here’s where Rex really gets me:

I really like this “import” feature [Ed.: GMail contact list import into Twitter] as it provides a benefit to the user while adding to the growth potential of Twitter — we all benefit. However, there needs to be a corresponding “export” feature whereby I can export my Twitter contacts back in my direction.

Y’know, there used to be this beautiful app—a real one, mind you—that pulled data out of Facebook and dumped it into Address Book. I loved the idea, but because I was using a Treo at the time and was having Address Book horkups where the whole DB would wipe out, I never tried it … and then Facebook shut ’em down. This one-way valve stuff? It sucks. You gotta let me in and out, man.

Data lock-in is just something that gets under my skin, whether it’s at work—oh, the stories I can’t tell you now but will after I retire or leave aerospace—or at home. I’m not quite Pilgrimarian about freedom, but I do nod my head at what he says.