Humin - A Zombie Idea

If you ever listen to the wonderful More or Less podcast, you'll have heard the term "Zombie Statistic."

It relates to stats which are factually incorrect - yet keep being circulated. Despite being disproved, they rear their ugly heads again and again. You probably know a few - men think about sex every 7 seconds, London is France's 6th biggest city, Christians are the most persecuted religion, etc.

In technology circles, we have Zombie Ideas. Products so awful that they are rejected by users again and again. Yet, still, every so often they reanimate. Rising from the grave to devour investors' money and users' attention.

Perhaps, one glorious day in the future, we'll make video calls on our Internet connected fridges, and send a micropayment to a crowdsourced politician, who promises to ban online pornography. But it's not coming any time soon.

The latest idea to come crawling out of the slurry pit is... the Social Address Book!

Humin - a company with a laughably pompous attitude to its self importance - wants us all to sign up to its service. In return, it literally promises to make us "awesome".

humin awesome

*sigh*

Theory vs Practice

In theory, the social address book is a pretty nifty idea. Alice has Bob's details in her phone book. Bob changes his details - moves house, gets a new number, changes corporate email address - and Alice's address book is automatically updated!!!!!!

And, yeah, get this. When Alice looks in her address book, she'll see Bob's latest Facebook post! OMG!

OK, I'm a little jaded. I worked, for a while, on Zyb. A company which did exactly what Humin does. This was.... Ooh... 5 or 6 years ago?

Zyb was pretty nifty. If you had it installed, you could get updates to my details, see my MySpace posts, and have it all update automagicially. Move phones? No problem - your Zyb details were all stored in The Clown.

It failed - and failed hard. Why? Well, partly because Vodafone bought it for $49 million and then killed it with bureaucracy 2 years later. It also didn't help that most people don't care about their address book that much.

My next experience was with the exciting new .tel domain names. I went and purchased http://edent.tel/ for €18 - stuck my details on there and installed their social address book.

Now this was cool. I got a new domain, and my details updated via DNS propagation! An open standard - no proprietary products, no evil advertising trying to sell my personal details, and err... well... who doesn't want a domain name where you can only host a limited set of information?!?! Right?

Turns out, only 325,000 people ever thought that was a good idea....

This is the crux of the issue. For a social network to be of any use, it has to attract a significant number of users. Being the first person on Humin is like being the first person with a fax machine. Interesting; but you can't do anything useful with it.

This brings us to Plaxo. I think it was 2004 when I first received spam inviting me to join Plaxo. I say spam because there was an unending torrent of emails from half-remember colleagues, random strangers, and quite clearly fake account all claiming that they wanted to connect with me.

This is were we are with Humin today. They realise that a connected address-book needs to have a significant number of users. So they send out a ton of unsolicited, automated emails, in the hope that you will give them your private data for free.

humin spam

Cui Bono?

Here's the next serious problem with Humin. Who owns my data?

Is my email address private? When I hand you a business-card, what are your responsibilities with regard to my data? If you are a company, you are probably bound by the Data Protection Act (or local equivalent) not to share my information without consent. If you are an individual, no such laws apply. We have to rely on good manners.

If someone came up to you on the street and said:

Hey, I'd love Terence's email, phone number, home address, birthday, photograph, and any notes you have on them. C'mon man, I'll give you a cookie!

- I hope you would have the good sense to refuse them.

Yet this is what Humin are doing.

Plaxo faced such a serious backlash against their hoovering up of private data they had to release a statement explaining their lax attitude to privacy.

So now Humin have stolen my personal data via a third party and then send me a menacing email saying "This is everything we know about you. Join us. Join us now to correct any mistakes. JOIN US! Please also share all your friends' data as well. kthxbai."

As the Scots say, GTF.

What Is Dead Shall Never Die

Ok, so Humin doesn't respect privacy.  They don't have a critical mass of users.  That's not why this is a zombie product.  It's because it is useless.

Oh, don't get me wrong.  For a tiny subset of people there's great value in having a 100% perfect address book.  But for most of us, it's an overhead we just don't need.

I once spent a weekend going through my address book adding photos to every contact, making sure I had their addresses correct. What I discovered was that over 15 years of use, my phone had become a graveyard for the details of every half remembered acquaintance, plumber, and ex-girlfriend.  Are most of the details out of date? Yes - almost certainly.  Do I care? No.

Here's the bare fact.  95% of phone calls and texts are made to 5% of the numbers in your phone book.

And that's the trap that Humin falls into.

  • If my best friend changes their number - they'll let me know.
  • If someone hates me, or is scared of me - they won't tell me of a change of address.
  • On the off chance that I need to contact someone I met at a conference 7 years ago, and haven't spoken to since - I'll look for them on AltaVista.

Let's ignore the fact that Humin don't care about our privacy.  Forget their closed-source product, closed protocol, and closed network.  This isn't a problem that needs solving.  They might as well say "lets disrupt the way people leave notes out for the milkman!!!!"

Yeah, the way we do things now isn't the most hyper-efficient system in the world.  But it works.  It's failure resistant, fully inclusive, and doesn't compromise personal privacy.

Death to Zombies.


One Response to “Humin - A Zombie Idea”

  1. Jon Baines Image of Jon Baines

    "If you are a company, you are probably bound by the Data Protection Act (or local equivalent) not to share my information without consent. If you are an individual, no such laws app". This isn't strictly correct, anyone (including private individuals) who is processing personal data, in circumtstances under which they determine the means by and the purposes for the processing, is a data controller, unless they are exempt. There is an exemption in the Data Protection Act 1998 where the processing is "only" for domestic purposes. However, I would suggest, and case law would support, that processing of the type you describe might not attract the protection of this exemption.

    That said, I doubt very much the Information Commissioner would agree, so I'm not sure there's much mileage in this argument. Nonetheless, I made it last year in approximate terms: http://informationrightsandwrongs.com/2013/06/21/ico-social-media-guidance-shirking-responsibility/

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