Blog on hold: This blog is currently on hold. Please visit blog.keranmckenzie.com for new blog posts

soocial.com – a chat with Spif

Tweet A while back I managed to score myself a beta pass to a brand new site called soocial.com, as site/service that has saved my …. contacts, twice since I signed up. I took the opportunity this week to find out from founder Stefan (Spif) a little more about soocial.com and the thinking behind it. [...]

A while back I managed to score myself a beta pass to a brand new site called soocial.com, as site/service that has saved my …. contacts, twice since I signed up.

I took the opportunity this week to find out from founder Stefan (Spif) a little more about soocial.com and the thinking behind it.

soocial.com - a chat with Spif

soocial.com - a chat with Spif

Interview with Stefan – founder of soocial.com

In two sentences, can you describe soocial.com for those who are yet to experience the site:

Soocial is a service that helps you keep all your address books sane. We sync between computers, phones and online services, provide backups and sharing tools so you are back in control of your contacts.

What was the inspiration for soocial.com, was it a one person thought, or is there a team behind the initial thinking?

Soocial was born from our first company Eight Media (www.eight.nl) which is still going strong and now has 10 crazy smart guys running the Eight show. We actually set out to find a problem we all thought was worth fixing. One of the guys (Thanks Rik!) came with the idea to provide a backup service for your Mac Address Book – but then when we really took the idea seriously we knew we had to extend that to phones and later online services too. Now the philosophy is to support all contacts in any place you might need them.

How many people are involved with soocial.com now & is it now a full time business?

It is a full time business, we currently employ 8 people, plus 2 founders puts the total at 10.

Techy question, what technology is behind soocial? Rails, PHP, MVC or hand crafted?

We use Rails for our webapp but there is a lot more Ruby stuff going on in the background that powers the syncs with online services and phones. Also a lot of the merging code is Ruby too. Our backend database is PostGres, which has served us nicely and we’re currently in the process of moving a lot of our architecture to Amazon Web Services (part faster scaling, part cost reasons).

I use soocial.com purely as a backup to my local address book on the Mac – is this all that soocial.com can do?

No, Soocial does way more. Backups is an important part of Soocial – provide backups for the contacts on your Mac, phone and online services like GMail or Highrise.

Soocial really shines as a sync tool though. We provide a full two-way sync with GMail, Highrise, your Mac, Nokia phones, SonyEricsson phones and more. We are working hard on an Outlook and Blackberry client which we hope to release very soon. Using Soocial means your address book is always up-to-date, it doesn’t matter where you change or add a contact it will be propagated to all your other address books within minutes. Having one address book across many devices and services has never been achieved correctly, until now with Soocial.

I was using MobileMe to keep my iPhone in sync with my Mac & I”ve just turned off my account (can’t afford the $100+ a year). I miss PUSH contacts, where I can add a contact on my phone and know it’s on the Mac when I open up again. Do you have any plans to offer push sync for mobile devices?

MobileMe is actually only has limited PUSH contacts – there was a bit of an outcry when they released MobileMe for using that terminolgy. What you describe is actually just a one way sync trigger from the phone to MobileMe and the contact then gets PUSHED to your mac. However if you change a contact in the MobileMe web-interface or on the Mac that will not get PUSHED to your iPhone. You have to trigger the sync manually. We already to this on the Blackberry and will be as soon as Apple’s iPhone SDK allows for triggers when contacts are changed.

You talk in your latest Keynote (FOWA – watch Spif’s Keynote here) about mobile not being a device & I see this reflected in Soocial, How do you see apps like Soocial forming the new definition of mobile in the coming 12 to 18 months?

It really depends greatly on the adoption of different services (like Soocial). There are two aspects to this the first the failure of Planet Mobile to innovate themselves and secondly the cool new startups that are providing things like location based services, new social networks, and all sorts of other added value services like Soocial.

The Planet Mobile (as the mobile industry is called) is very slow to move and they are milking their cash-cows greatly (text message still 25 cents? Come on!) Network operators and mobile phone companies are very segmented and there is little cross platform compatibility. Even the same phone, with the same OS version will work differently on different networks. So don’t expect a lot from that corner. Sometimes the moves of Planet Mobile are actually damaging to the industry in that it is often being hampered in innovative efforts.

Startups (and other out-ofhte-box tech companies – like Apple and Google) however are the ones driving new waves of services. I believe we will be seeing a lot of new services bypassing the stale network services. For example a lot of stuff these days is completely bypassing the networks (think wifi, iPhone apps, upcoming gPhone etc). On top of these platforms and technologies there is a lot of movement and it is something that has a very exciting feeling to it.

You also mention the ability to have applications or technology that is location aware and tailoring it’s usage to respond in this location. Soocial is by default a web, location independent system, however are you working on expanding the definition of a contact to include location based preferences? For example, my iPhone can tell where it is, for example Dictaphone (By polar bear apps) tags recordings with GPS locations allowing me to say all my recordings at work go into this folder, all my recordings at home go into that one. I could see my address book containing location based information meaning that when I am at home I don’t want to take calls from my work based contacts …. is this something you see happening anytime soon or are we too hamstrung by the mobile devices?

I think it is changing and will continue to change. LBS will become easier and on by default (of course privacy issues will be solved in the mean time). Software will start to have location based settings and profiles like you describe. At first these will be there as add-ons (like Dictaphone, Brightkite etc) and we’ll see social networks being based around this too. However eventually I believe these will be built into the standard apps and we’ll start to see really cool new services built on top of these. A big thing that needs to happen is to make this location awareness built into standards, we are hesitant to add non-standard location data to contacts as it will then be a dead end. Creating address books is meaningless without the services built on top of them to use the address books. So in short – it depends on the services that we can plug into.

Back to soocial.com – currently in beta it’s free, is it intended to be free for ever, or do you have a business model?

Our business model is a pay-what-you-want subscription model where you can pay based on the value you perceive from Soocial’s tools. We will be adding subscription to shared address books for businesses in the future.

Your website talks about integration with Mac – but what about windows or linux users? Can people easily sync contacts with other computers & is there a limit to how many computers you can sync?

There is and will be no limit on how many computers you can sync. The whole idea is that you can sync and have your contacts up-to-date in all places you use an address book. We are adding Outlook support soon, Linux support is more tricky but we are looking at it. Of course we also have an API so developers could easily build their own sync tool based on our API.

Lets say I want to sync 2 computers, mine and our home computer. Here at work I have a ton of contacts that are 100% work related, and I don’t want these on my home computer, however I have a heap of family contacts that I do want shared. Is there a way in soocial.com that can allow me to do this?

Not yet. We are working on powerful organization tools where you can filter what contacts go to what device based on tags and simple rules like “only phone numbers”. This means you can have your work contacts sync to your Outlook, but only have your private numbers sync to your Mac and all contacts to your phone – but only if they have a phone number.

Why only contacts and not include the ability to do full calendar syncing as well – this seems to be what everyone else does (not that that makes it correct)?

We believe the only way to solve the connected address book problem is to provide in depth contact features – that is to sync contacts successfully you need detailed syncing logic about contacts. We also believe that the only way to solve the address book problem is to have enough platform support for people to find Soocial useful. This is a tremendous task and focus is key in solving it correctly. We have chosen not to sync calendars until the address book problem has been solved correctly.

If people want to get in and give soocial.com a go (from a backup point only soocial.com is worth it. the fact you can sync multiple systems is brilliatn), what do they do?

Go to www.soocial.com/fowa and get your invite!

Now according to your online profile, you are part kiwi? Have you been down to NZ lately?

I am part Kiwi, living in the Netherlands. We’ll have beer at the Occidental in Auckland (they have great Dutch and Belgian beers! [studiowhiz] They sure do!! [/studiowhiz]). Haven’t been to NZ since 2004.

Where is soocial.com based? 

We are based in Amsterdam, good city for a startup – a lot of creative people and good inspiring enviroment that really helps when thinking through tough material like the address book can be.

I love that soocial.com can sync with Gmail contacts … but I hate Gmail contacts as it gets filled up with all these email contacts that are simply an email – either website emails, form responses etc. Can soocial help me sort this mess out, can soocial make sense of what are real contacts and what are not?

Actually Google has recently changed their way of adding suggested contacts – which is a good step in the right direction. Except they haven’t added this feature to the API – so we have no way to distinguish ‘all your contacts’ from your ‘my contacts’. Go to this URL and complain to Google to have it fixed: code.google.com/p/gdata-issues/issues/detail?id=677 That would help us greatly, thanks!

Summary

I want to say a huge thanks to Stefan for taking the time out of his busy schedule to have a chat about soocial.com. I’m a fan & in my book it’s a MUST HAVE install on my mac’s now & into the future.

I’m excited to hear about the new features the team at soocial.com have planned and I also have to say I’m really impressed with the level of personal support I’ve received from the team. Yes I follow a couple of them on Twitter – but the genuine concern and time that was put into getting me out of a mess recently – blew me away.  These guys really have the right attitude to make this a great system.

Support Studiowhiz.com