Jan. 9, 2009

Posted by in General | 1 comment

Hold the Phone – Facebook Sync?

This week I eagerly refreshed the Engadget liveblog of Palm’s presentation at CES, curious to see what device and OS they would introduce.  While I doubt I’ll be replacing my new iPhone (yeah!) with a Pre any time soon, I was rather intrigued by several aspects of the new platform and look forward to seeing what comes of it.  I was impressed as the various descriptions rolled in from Engadget, but then they mentioned a feature that provoked a double-take:

In Synergy, you don’t have to import, you just login. But you don’t want duplicates in this list. You see this stack of photos in the contact card – that means there’s 3 sources for this contact, from Google, Outlook, and Facebook. But I can look at all her phone numbers with no dupes, and I don’t have to worry about managing this.

Excuse me?  Contact information from Facebook?

Currently no Facebook application has access to the e-mail, phone number, address, etc. of any user.  Even if a desktop app logged into Facebook and screen-scraped, the e-mail addresses are displayed as images.  And we all remember when Robert Scoble tried to download all of his friends’ contact info using such an approach.

The fact that Sheryl Sandberg showed up for the presentation tells me Palm has some special technology operating here.  Perhaps not, but I’m at a bit of a loss to explain how they can access and sync Facebook contact info for a user’s friends.  And if there really is some sort of special recipe behind the scenes, this raises a host of questions – for instance, will third-party Pre apps be able to access contact data and use it?

More importantly, why doesn’t anyone else have this kind of access?

I haven’t seen this particular question addressed since the Pre presentation, so I thought I would bring it up.  I’d certainly like to get more details as to what’s going on here.  And I definitely hope Facebook starts letting users legitimately sync contact info, regardless of whether they own a Pre.

Update (Jan. 10): I’ve continued watching Techmeme stories for more details on the Facebook integration, and this evening I found this tidbit from IntoMobile’s hands-on:

Enter your Facebook credentials and Synergy will search out all your contacts and automatically add them to your contacts list – complete with profile information (like phone numbers and email addresses) as well as pictures. Synergy can also draw contact information from multiple sources, like other social networks.

With your credentials, the application could theoretically use screen-scraping to gather such data.  But isn’t that the same technique that got Scoble banned?  In fact, automated scripts to collect information from Facebook are specifically banned in the TOS.  This would again lead me to believe that the Pre has some special pipeline to Facebook.

And is it downloading data or accessing on-the-fly?  Even data accessible to Facebook applications, such as profile pictures, cannot be permanently stored by an application.  Once again, it would appear that the Pre has a special dispensation to maintain contact data.

Facebook still has much to explain about the Pre…

  1. I hope that Facebook begins tearing down the walls of their walled garden in regards to email and contact information syncing.

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