Several years ago, I spoke on a panel at an advertising industry conference with Om Malik and Michael Arrington. Arrington, my former employer, was bored by the conversation and mocked me throughout it. One of the last questions we were asked on the panel was what technology we were most excited about at the time. I said I was most excited by trends represented by a little startup called Rapportive, which sits in your Gmail sidebar and shows you aggregated information about whoever you are emailing.
Arrington laughed at me, just like he had laughed at me in the conference green room when I showed people photos on my phone of the chickens I was raising in my backyard. Just as I was vindicated when the TV show Portlandia later demonstrated that it is perfectly reasonable to raise chickens here in my home town, so too do I feel a little vindicated by the reported acquisition in the works of Rapportive by social network LinkedIn. OK, so both are a little silly. But the point is: Rapportive is awesome and I was right.
Above: To receive an email from Selena Deckelmann is a meaningful thing. Take note, by putting such an email in context.
It wasn’t a big acquisition (TechCrunch was told around $15m) but it was a validation of some big ideas.
Rapportive is a simple thing, and yet it’s founded on some complex and potent technology trends. Trends like: identity as platform, harvesting of social network user data and APIs for cross-site functionality. On top of profile data and email adresses, you can build awesome tools.
Rapportive is magical; it’s one of the first things I show people when I am excited to show them something about the internet. Many people immediately see the value of it. When we first wrote about it here, we titled our post Stop What You Are Doing Right Now and Install This Browser Plug-in. No one objected, it was clearly awesome. (The line Stop What You Are Doing is something best reserved for when you can really back it up.)
Since that time, Rapportive has served as one of the most compelling elements in the still-unfullfilling ecosystem of CRM applications floating around the internet. None solve all your problems, most are hard to make the time to come back to. Not Rapportive, though. Not if you’re a Gmail user, anyway. It delivers relationship management value in almost every email you send and recieve.
Much of that value comes from the integration of 3rd party services. There’s a whole list of apps built on Rapportive. They sit in your email, look at who you’re corresponding with and then let you interact with that person or their content on other social networks. Twitter and LinkedIn have been the best in my experience, but enterprise Rapportive users may have prefered other apps on the platform.
Woe, woe to LinkedIn if they screw with this. If LinkedIn is to Rapportive as Twitter has been to Tweetdeck then I am going to be one unhappy user. If LinkedIn treats Rapportive as well as it has treated CardMunch (which is a miracle app) then we’re in good shape.
LinkedIn may serve up less data in Rapportive simply because this is probably the end of Rapportive’s relationship with the super-controversial social data mining service Rapleaf. Update: Rapportive contacted me to say they haven’t been using Rapleaf for more than a year now. Noted!Many people hate Rapleaf, but they love the Rapportive interface that serves up some of that information. Fortunately Rapportive does not surface some of the information Rapleaf makes available, like home and car ownership and family status.
Rapportive was the best example of what could be done with aggregated user data though! All too often, when you ask someone about aggregated social network user data they immediately say “I’m opposed to it!”
As a platform for the creation of products, services, new ways to relate to the people and the web arround us though – Rapportive is a beautiful example of what the future of the web could be. It’s not about apps like Path sucking your phone’s contact info into its servers without telling you; it’s not about services like Pinterest surreptitiously changing your shared URLs to capture affiliate revenue.
No, the future of user data as a platform, in its best form, is to show you the faces of the people you’re meeting by email. It’s about helping you connect with them. Hey, you might say, I see you sent me an email. I haven’t had a chance to reply yet, but you’ll notice that I just started following you on Twitter. (A person can also guess another person’s email by guessing at variations of their name @ their company domain.com.)
I sure hope Rapportive can grow and thrive in its new home. And I hope that it will inspire whole new worlds of startups building