Portable Contacts API Starts to Get Real

This evening Joseph and John of Plaxo and I have been hosting a hackathon at Six Apart for the Portable Contacts API (video about PorC). The Portable Contacts API is designed “to make it easier for developers to give their users a secure way to access the address books and friends lists they have built up all over the web.”

We originally expected a handful of people to show up and hack on implementing bits of the specification, but so far have been blown away at the progress made and about the twenty people that came. Tomorrow is a summit style meeting hosted by MySpace also in San Francisco to try to finalize the specification among a wide range of providers and consumers. I’m expecting a handful of interesting demos, but wanted to share two that have already come together tonight.

Joseph Smarr and Kevin Marks of Google hacked together a web transformer that integrates Microformats, vCard, and the Portable Contacts API. Given Kevin’s homepage which is full of Microformats, they’ve built an API that extracts his profile information from hCard, uses a public API from Technorati to transform it to vCard, and then exposes it as a Portable Contacts API endpoint. Not only does this work on Kevin’s own page, but his Twitter profile as well which contains basic profile information such as name, homepage, and a short bio.

Brian Ellin of JanRain has successfully combined OpenID, XRDS-Simple, OAuth, and the Portable Contacts API to start showing how each of these building blocks should come together. Upon visiting his demo site he logs in using his OpenID. From there, the site discovers that Plaxo hosts his address book and requests access to it via OAuth. Finishing the flow, his demo site uses the Portable Contacts API to access information about his contacts directly from Plaxo. End to end, login with an OpenID and finish by giving the site access to your address book without having to fork over your password.

While the individual building blocks are fairly geeky themselves, pulling them together like has been happening tonight shows that we’re only at the beginning of building the next generation of social networks. When the pieces work together, people won’t have to know what’s going on under the hood; it will just work–and will be almost like magic. John has more photos up on his blog.

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