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Syncopa: a better phonebook experience
Year by year mobile phones are becoming more than just phones. Each modern phone is also a camera, a music player, an internet device - and a convenient address book. The downside of a mobile phone book is that it is static (just as conventional paper phonebook is). If your friend changes his or her phone number - you have to change it in your phone book manually. If you need to know your friend's home address - the best you can do is to call him and ask for it.
Is it possible to make a better phonebook, using all the possibilities that mobile technologies offer?
In order to create a solution for this problem, we must cover two directions:
- provide mobile phone users with internet-related functionality basing on the capabilities of their mobile devices (for example, offering convenient phonebook backup service to SyncML-enabled devices)
- provide external social services with information about the capabilities of a specific mobile device for determining maximum interoperability scenario (for example, allow blog-enabled Nokia phones to post photos to nanoblogging services like Tumblr)
We understand that developing both these scenarios will involve major research about ways of securing user data.
The goal of our project is to create a software solution for unification the interoperability of web services (like social networks, blog services, contact storages and encryption and security mechanisms) and mobile devices (from simple mobile phones to advanced communicator devices) and this devices' users.
The main part of the designed framework would be a universal API for communicating with different web services.
We propose the following project steps:
1. The first project phase. Widening the possibilities of an address book in a mobile phone – backup system for various types of mobile devices. We see this sub-project as a playground for testing the project workflow and gathering initial feedback from users (this phase is already completed, see next part)
2. The full solution phase. It will consist of the following:
- A server-stored phonebook that is to be synchronized with a mobile device - either via SyncML or using a direct connection with a custom phonebook application on user's smartphone.
- An open API for integrating the server phonebook with external data storages
- An algorithm for intelligent fetching contact updates from different data sources, merging it and uploading it to users' mobile phone
- An advanced phonebook application for Symbian and Windows Mobile
We will cover the intelligent fetching algorithm more thoroughly. The problem that our system will face is determining whether two identities fetched from different contact storages (for example, a contact from GMail address book and friend's Facebook profile) are in fact the same person. We are currently discovering ways to solve this problem, one of discussed options is to inspect not only the profile itself, but also its social interconnections (like a list of contact's friends), which are also provided by almost each contact storage. Studying interconnections will allow us to evaluate the degrees of proximity and likeness of different profiles. We understand that this part of project will certainly require major research, but it will also provide the most interesting results.
3. The prospective phase. A major part of developments will address the problem of securing server-stored user data. One of possible solutions would be to apply private key-based encryption to personal data stored on the server, and mobile phone client application will decrypt it using a private key. This technique will prevent identity theft even if all data on the server is compromised by an attacker.
For the sake of prototype, we propose an open system for widening the possibilities of an address book in a mobile phone. The main goal is to provide connection between the mobile device phonebook and an external contact storage - for example, a list of friends in your favorite social network. How it will look like?
For simple, non-smartphone models, we rely on SyncML protocol to update the information in the phonebook: if your friend updates his or her profile in a popular social network, like Facebook, MySpace or VKontakte.ru, all modifications to his personal data will be automatically propagated to your mobile phone.
For advanced mobile devices - like smartphones and communicators - we propose a stand-alone application to replace the built-in phonebook. The application will have all the features of a default phonebook - listing and searching contacts, initiating calls and SMS texting, but also it will introduce some social-specific features, like viewing social network profiles for a person in phonebook, tracking his or her Internet activity (monitoring blog posts, photo albums, Twitter updates, etc).
For the means of integration, we plan to create an open API for contributing to user's phonebook. This API would allow any interested developer to create a plugin to fetch data from a social network or external contact storage (for example, GMail address book) and populate the server-side phonebook with this data. For this task, we plan to involve some already instantiated standards, like Google's OpenSocial (http://code.google.com/apis/opensocial/).
At the moment, we have created a simple SyncML synchronization service (www.syncopa.ru) and are currently working on creating API to synchronize the server-side phonebook with Russia's widest social network - VKontakte.ru. Early testers are praising the usability and ease of use of our service.
We hope that our idea is in pace with Nokia Fruct directions and we look forward for an effective collaboration.