I'll start this off by admitting I only have a fuzzy grasp of the underlying technology, but that doesn't stop me from believing there are interesting opportunities to be mined as an increasing number of major social networking sites are making member contact lists available through an API (Application Program Interface), based on a new collaborative standard called Portable Contacts.

Through Portable Contacts, you can build the capability into your online applications that enables your users to seamlessly access their address books stored on Google, MySpace, Plaxo and others. Word on the street is that other major social networking sites will jump on this bandwagon shortly. The operative word here is "seamless," meaning it's easy and convenient - users need not enter additional passwords and you don't have to do any screen scraping on their behalf.

At its lowest level, this is an opportunity to add more convenience to your online products. A user may want to forward a data record directly from your site to a colleague. With this new API, that could be as easy as providing them with a pre-populated pick list of all their colleagues.

But let's think more expansively. Lexis-Nexis has a powerful capability on its martindale.com site that lets you see if anyone in your Linked-In network knows any lawyer in the Martindale database that is also listed on Linked-In. What a powerful way to pre-qualify a lawyer you might want to hire.

Consider also Leadership Directories. Its Leadership Networks product lets you visually map how you and your colleagues connect to the most powerful and influential people in America. This API makes this type of functionality much easier and more powerful.

This initiative is all about seamless connectivity. And as I have said endlessly, data products can't thrive as standalone references. The more they integrate with other applications and embed themselves in business processes and workflow, the more powerful they become. Here's just one more way to accomplish that.

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