The notion of a unified, federated or centralized web-based address book for our various contact databases has long been a quixotic dream for many startups and application providers. Mozilla Labs’ experimental Contacts application, launched a couple of days ago, sweeps these lofty visions aside with simplicity and pragmatism, while adding some considerable value to the Firefox browser. Think of it as Firefox’s Awesome Bar for people!
Simply put, Contacts (installed as a Firefox add-on) makes your browser “aware” of contact lists and address books you’re using elsewhere on the web, but rather than simply providing a view of these aggregated contacts, the add-on integrates them into form elements, so that names and addresses are auto-completed as you type.
Installing Contacts requires a browser restart, after which this add-on is available from Firefox’s Tools menu. Firstly, you need to link your contacts to Firefox:
Currently, Contacts enables you to synchronize with Mac OS X’s address book, Gmail contacts and Twitter. An additional feature scans through imported contacts, adding Gravatar avatars for each entry where available. Notably, creating these hooks to other services is a simple one-click process; presumably because authentication details already reside in Firefox’s cookies.
I’d actually forgotten I’d installed Contacts a few days ago, until today I was signing up for MixCloud — a web radio service. As I was completing the signup form, Firefox handily auto-completed my email address alongside a thumbnail of my avatar!
Contacts works well and includes APIs to extend the importing and permissions features, though auto-completion is currently limited to email addresses only.
Despite growing competition from Opera, Safari and Chrome — and perhaps even IE9 — Contacts underlines Mozilla’s commitment to utility, openness and innovation; the add-on certainly feels like something others will emulate and adopt as standard browser behavior.
Have you tried Contacts? How is it working for you so far?
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise