Sunrise, Sunset

By Ezra Butler on July 12th, 2012

Brewster, a new New York-based company, launched today, with a typically effusive Mashable post and a coveted New York Times Bits write-up. Meanwhile, Hashable has announced plans to sunset its service. Brewster seeks to redefine the traditional static address book; Hashable sought to replace the physical business card. Breaking tradition is a theme Union Square Ventures, an investor in both, obviously champions.

On his widely-read blog, investor Fred Wilson began his promotional post for Brewster with a paragraph lamenting how modern address books are digital copies of the antiquated physical ones, and how they should be “hyperconnected”, “informed by [our digital life]“, and “responsive”. In other words, an address book should be dynamic and not static, a sentiment no self-righteous geek can very well oppose.

This is much like the argument put forward in the New York Times a few years ago chronicling the slow demise of business cards. The target of the hommage du jour back then was Hashable.

It is hard not find piquancy in the juxtaposition of some services sunsetting and others launching, when they are in such similar fields, geographically close, and related by investor. And they are only two examples of a much larger field.

Brewster is magical. I am shocked no one has attempted anything like it before. (OK, beside Xobni, of course. And Parisian start-up Silentale’s original premise before pivoting. And one of Hashable’s famous pivots. And many others.)

But, no, I’m sure Brewster is different and better. I’m sure they employ amazing algorithms and will enable the masses to completely simplify the arduous task of maintaining their address books. People will appear brilliant and connected whenever they chat with a business acquaintance and seem to know everything that’s happening. It will suggest people to reconnect with. It will reinvent business and personal networking!

If people actually use it.

The app is free, which implies there will be a data play on the users’ personal information, as the privacy policy seems to admit when it refers to customer data as “[sellable] assets”. For a user, it is not very comforting to be informed by a newly launched company what will happen in case of (read: when) being “acquired”, “[going] out of business”, and “[entering] bankruptcy”. The traditional pattern for a company who reportedly raised $0.5 million with a new founder whose previous employer was acquired by Facebook would usually to be get acquired.

For Brewster to be useful, it will have to constantly aggregate and analyse data from numerous data sources, making it a smarter target for acquisition than Hashable which required people to manually enter data. Someone, someday, has to get address books right. But something tells me it will be a start up less overt in its intentions to rip out your private information and flog it for a few cents of advertising revenue.

Ironically, Brewster’s terminus is being sunsetted whether it succeeds or fails miserably. Personally, I’m just going to wait until they get the kinks out of the system, perfect the algorithm and usability, and get bought by Facebook. That seems to be the fate of anyone who bases their entire company on data retrieved from elsewhere.

Or, you know, I could just update my address book myself, like a regular person.