Thinking About Contacts Management

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Outlook.com with 45 Comments

Thinking About Contacts Management

I’m reorganizing my contacts this week, and like any other forms of digital decluttering, it’s a time-consuming mess.

If you’re a Thurrott Premium member, you may know that I am doing this in response to some “We Help Wednesday” questions from yesterday’s podcast. And like other fundamental topics I’ll be revisiting this year, contacts management is something that we sadly need to keep on top of regularly.

I’d have written this one up as such a post, but the thing is, I don’t feel that I have a strategy or set of strategies that I can recommend broadly. So instead, I’ll just explain how my contacts are set up and describe the changes I’m making. Maybe in muddling through this, we can collectively come up with a way forward that makes sense.

First up, I have two contacts lists that I actually use, one in my Outlook.com account (which is a Hotmail address dating back over 15 years) and one in Google Gmail, which is a custom domain (paul at thurrott dot com). The Outlook contacts list is a mess, as it dates back so far and has never really been effectively cleaned up. The Google one is much shorter and cleaner.

I use the Google account more directly, in that I do everything through Google’s web clients on my PC: Google Inbox for email and Google Calendar for my schedule. Contacts management isn’t something I think about enough, but when I do need to add or edit a contact there, I just click the Contacts link in Inbox, which brings me to the Google (Gmail) Contacts interface.

Because the Google account is my primary account, I forward email from Outlook.com to that account. (This is configured in Options, Mail, Accounts in the Outlook.com web interface.) But as noted, the Outlook account has an extensive list of contacts dating back many years. A lot of that is out-of-date, frankly, but it includes people—and their phone numbers—which aren’t in my Google account, so I sync this to phones too, so I can get at those numbers.

So it seems like the best thing to do, perhaps, is to clean up both lists. And then, since the Google account, which again is a custom domain, is my primary account, make sure it is up-to-date with the contacts/phone numbers I need from the Outlook account. This has to happen from the web, on a PC. Doing this on mobile would be even more tedious.

Indeed, just writing about this—just thinking about this—makes my eyes roll back up into my head. This is just boring, monotonous work. But as with any other kind of decluttering—digital or in the real world—the payoff here, I suppose, is in the completion. That is, hopefully it will feel so good to get this done that I will then keep things clean and tidy moving forward.

We’ll see.

To get started, I looked at the Google list and started making some obvious changes. There were some duplicate contacts for whatever reason, so I merged them as needed. To do this in Google Contacts, select them, then select More and then Merge Contacts. This was easy enough.

In Outlook.com, things are a bit more complex, go figure. There’s a handy “Clean up contacts” item under the Manage menu, but even though I see some obvious duplicates—for Andrew Zarian, among others—Outlook.com reports back with “We couldn’t find any duplicate contacts.” But you can select duplicate contacts—like the two entries for Andrew—and choose Link from the menu. So that works like it does with Google: Two contacts become one.

Next, I looked through the list to correct strange problems with the names: Some only had the first name, some had a non-name as the name, some had the first and last name switched. Those are easily fixed, for the most part.

After that, I looked for contacts to remove: I have former co-workers in there who have moved on to new companies (and email addresses), and there were several Microsoft PR people in there that seemed out of date. So I searched for their email addresses in my email, and the ones that hadn’t written me since 2015 were removed. I assume they’ve moved on too.

I haven’t completed the duplication or contact removals in Outlook.com yet, mostly because every time I look at that list I feel like slitting my wrists. But I’ll try to work on that today. On the Google side, however, things are very tidy. Aspirational, really.

So I guess that’s my to-do: Clean up my Outlook.com contacts, and then compare the two lists and figure out which contacts I need to move over to Google. And then I can start syncing the contacts from just the one account on my phones.

This isn’t a concern for calendars, since I moved to Google years ago. But that may be an issue for some of you—multiple calendar accounts, that is—and I suppose calendar merging across accounts is a murkier issue than contacts merging. It never ends, basically.

Yep. Borrrrrring. But necessary.

Summary

I guess if I had written this as a “First Steps” article, the list would look like so:

  • Pick a primary account if necessary
  • Merge duplicate contacts
  • Remove contacts that are no longer needed
  • Ensure that each contact is correct and up-to-date
  • Wash, rinse, repeat: Set up a reminder to clean up your contacts periodically

 

Tagged with , , ,

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (45)

45 responses to “Thinking About Contacts Management”

  1. 289

    How about this idea for editing contact information/fields: export the contact data to a CSV file which can then be edited in Excel.  Delete contacts in the system, then upload the corrected contacts from the CSV file.  Is there a fatal flaw somewhere in this plan?  

  2. 214

    It's like cleaning out a garage - about half way through you wish you never started...

    I'd love to see 3rd party tools for decluttering and de-kludging personal data stores. The problem stems from these walled gardens of data.

    For example, let it collect ALL the contacts from everywhere I can think of, then provide intelligent help turning it into a "master" for republishing to whatever services I choose. Of course, I suppose the services could themselves "be" the tool if they thought it through. Problem is most of the services can't imagine themselves co-existing with other services. 

    Same thing would be great for files; I had a server crash a couple of years back that threw a terabyte of raw files and countless complex Photoshop edits into disarray. I had everything on a number of backups, but moving and merging all that back into an orderly system, is pretty daunting. So far, it has never made it to the top of the round-to-it list.

    Tools. That's what I want. Tools...

    • 289

      In reply to chrisrut:

      Excellent ideas.  For the file merging I heard of two classic Win 32 programs not long ago that I think would do this.  The conversation was in the context of dealing with photo duplicates and combining photo libraries, but they'd work for other files as well.  These programs go beyond just comparing file names and dates, doing much deeper inspection.  Sadly I can't think of the names but someone here will surely have a recommendation.

  3. 627

    When I go into my Outlook.com account I see this strange mess

     

    all of these have contacts have been added to my account. Many of them duplicates which can be cleaned up, but most of them are annoying. For example I don't really want Twitter or old MSN Messenger accounts appearing in my contacts. Here's the problem though. I cannot get rid of them. I've removed all links between my outlook account and these services, but they persist and there's no option to delete any of them. If I right click on any of the categories, I get a 'Manage' option, and a popup appears with the option to remove/add a connection Linkedin, this apparently does nothing with the connection either added or removed. 

    This is what appears when I press 'Manage' under Twitter contacts

     

    In the end I got nowhere. I set up my Android phone so no contacts from this account ever appear. Then I started over, edited the contacts I actually wanted in Excel, saved as a CSV file and imported into a gmail account which just works. Why this needs to be so complicated I have no idea.  

    • 127

      In reply to OwenM:

      I am having the exact same issue. Once you have connected these services to your Outlook account, there is simply no way to get rid of these contact entries anymore. In fact, I have only one Google account, but with certain contacts, I see multiple Google contact connections. No idea where they come from. And, obviously :/ , I cant get rid of them....

    • 9063

      In reply to OwenM: You can use the Microsoft Graph to clean up your contacts. It's a little tricky but at least you can delete everything. Open https://graph.microsoft.io/en-us/graph-explorer#/ and Sign-In with you account.
      To list your contact folders:
      GET -> https://graph.microsoft.com/beta/me/contactFolders
      To delete a contact folder:
      Copy the ID that you see in the output.
      DELETE -> https://graph.microsoft.com/beta/me/contactFolders/{id}
      Documentation if you need help: https://graph.microsoft.io/en-us/docs/api-reference/v1.0/resources/contactfolder

       

       

  4. 4964

    I settled on Outlook.com as primary and don't use gmail or yahoo (yes ISP still using them for their email) for composing or contacts. What I find a pain is merged social accounts (facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) where the persons info is out of date and they don't bother fixing it, still shows up in my contacts. Be nice if you could have an ignore this on those contact fields

  5. 1587

    Just bite the bullet and install the Outlook desktop client. Go ahead...you know you want to.

  6. 422

    I have it just like you Paul, Google contacts are nice and tidy and Outlook.com list is just such a mess, that I do not use it at all. Fortunately, Google was my main contact service from the start...

  7. 2371

    I find that linking to accounts on my Win10M phone is easy and it even recommends possible accounts to link.  Usually I have a Facebook account and an outlook account that need to be linked.  Maybe that is why Paul has some duplicate accounts, but outlook is not finding them (because they may have the same name, but one account is Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn).

  8. 131

    I spent 5 months between jobs about 9 years ago and had just moved my domain/email to Google Apps.  Being unemployed yielded all kinds of free time to do the things you're talking about in this article (in addition to adding album art and cleaning up the tags in all 30K of my MP3s).  I got everything cleaned up in my contacts and calendars and have (fortunately) been disciplined enough over the years to keep it organized.  I also have a recurring monthly reminder to perform and archive a Google Takeout with all my stuff, just in case something happens with Google.

  9. 7063

    A long time ago I used to use Plaxo, which was a dedicated online address book that could sync with virtually everyone and everything out there. It wasn't bad except that I stopped using virtually everything else except for Google, so the need faded.

  10. 1581

    I have perhaps, the opposite problem. I have a single address list, stored in the cloud since before it was The Cloud in outlook.com

     

    The problem, as Dilbert once said, is people. And Skype.

     

    As I look through my phone, I see Anna, Ana and [email protected]

     

    I've got Hayley, Hayzl and Hazza69...

     

    Why can't people just keep a single email address. Is it so hard?

     

    And sure, you can "link" them on your (*Windows*) phone. But don't expect it to stick, or sync to other wildly obscure services like outlook.com on the web or your PC. And if you ever do something crazy like having Skype installed for more than a week, they'll be unlinked and reduplicated.

     

    I stick with it, but they make it so hard sometimes, you know?

  11. 1058

    Forget about managing a Personal Address Book! I've given up.

    When I need somebody's phone number I use either Email (search for recent email), LinkedIn (professional contacts) or Facebook (friends).

    Personal Address Books are a thing of the past!

  12. 4499

    Paul, What I would do is export your outlook contacts to a CSV file and then just delete the entire contacts list. That way you have a clean start but still have the mess saved just in case you find that you are missing something.  You could even than import your google contacts into outlook if you so desire. Just a thought.

  13. 4327

    I know this will be laughed at, but you can just download into a csv file, then dump into an Access Database table, and then use its pretty easy to use query builder to filter and sort on anything you want and then save back as a csv or excel file and upload. 

  14. 980

    Paul,

    You should take a look at FullContact (FullContact.com). I have been using it for the last six month, a big step in the direction to what you are looking for.

    Tom Ward

  15. 349

    Thanks, Paul, for the hidden gem of a tip about forwarding email.  I too use Google Inbox and this is such a simple thing to do and it works perfectly.  Though, I needed to create some rules in gmail to not put the forwarded email into spam, and a rule on the outlook.com side to mark the forwarded emails as read.

  16. 7218

    If your Outlook.com is anything like mine, I wouldn't bother... the new Outlook.com will continually eff everything up repeatedly.  I've got people added to my favorites who don't show in the favorites list (but if I open their profile it shows that they're a favorite).  I've got people whose photos keep vanishing.  I've got contacts who continually get duplicated despite deleting the duplicates... clearly contact management was not a priority in the new design, because it's a buggy mess still (despite being a year after the initial rollout).

    • 8540

      In reply to jhoff80:

      That's been my experience as well.  I've given up and am using my google account for contacts.  It's a shame, as I wanted to use an exchange-compliant mail service, but I can't deal with constant random duplications, and deletions. 

  17. 9352

    Paul, I thought you were doing the opposite. I mean, transfer gmail mails to Outlook. Don't you like Outlook.com web interface better than Gmail ? Did you also set tup in gmail the Send from option to your outlook account?

    And one more question ? Can you do an article about Pictures Management (Onedrive vs Google Photos)

  18. 149

    I use solely Outlook.com for managing all contacts, but since switching to Android I found myself having two problems:

    1. Editing Outlook contacts on Android is painful (is it even possible? what the heck)

    2. My car nav is not able to read full addresses of my Outlook.com contacts, probably because the phone does not provide that data over bluetooth for some reason. So what I had to do is open a gmail account and import all contacts over.

    Moving from Windows Phone to Android last year kind of feels to be the first step to me to walk away from Microsoft. Closing my Zune/Xbox Music/Groove and moving to Spotify will be one of my next steps. And maybe I will just switch to Gmail, because I don't want to manage contacts on two accounts...

    Have been a fan for so long, and now I kind of feel I'm just done, after being screwed over by so many things: Zune, Windows Phone, Band, Essentials and so many others my frustration just became too much. I liked the idea of having everything from one company, under one account and so on... but I guess there is just too much compromise involved.

  19. 5038

    Does anybody have a good method for sharing contacts between multiple accounts (family members)?  It's so easy to share calendars between accounts with all the consumer email providers (Outlook, Gmail, etc.), but I've not seen a good way to share contacts in the same way. This is easily accomplished with MS Exchange in the business world, wish the same existed with the consumer solutions.  

  20. 686

    Paul, this may not be a popular suggestion, but have you tried hooking up your contacts to the Outlook application you get in MS office and copy/pasting the contacts from one contact list to the other - then resyncing?  I recall you saying that you wanted to revisited the Outlook client used in businesses for a while but hadn't gotten the chance.  Perhaps this could dovetail to your clean-up efforts. ...just remember you will need legacy app ids for the 2 factor login for both MS and Google.

  21. 5361

    Paul, Now that Linux is more widely supported on Windows you may want to consider PINE. The "Simple Interface" could solve some problems.  

     

  22. 289

    I started to de-clutter my own contacts recently.  After about twenty minutes I had to just stop and do something less painful.  My brief respite? Running a LastPass Security Check and cleaning up passwords.

  23. 1470

    What I would really love is something that synchronised outlook and gmail contacts.  Fro years of switching between android and windows phones I have contacts split between the two accounts and would just love to sync data between both accounts and then keep them synced with changes on my android phone.

    • 442

      In reply to ftank:

      I always recommend to folks in your shoes to never setup Google as their main contact info, if switching to Android that is.  Just use one account, and connect your smartphone to that account.  Unless of course they were Google to start with, then make sure never to keep contacts on any other source.  If you'd stayed with Microsoft on your e-mail and accounts (I know, Google forces you to have a GMail account, darn them!) you could easily only use your Outlook (MSN, Live, whatever) account to feed the contacts into your phone.  Same on any Apple device.  Really saves headaches.

      I personally have two contact books.  One work related, and one personal.  Both are about the same size, quite big.  Keeping them separated is a bit of a chore, so I like many others would love to see a good tool for handling this much more easily.

  24. 699

    My idea of "contacts management" is to just type in people's names as I need to communicate with them and *hope* and *pray to God* they pop up and auto-populate in my Windows Mail. I mostly rely on my 20 year old msn.com email address, which I have used off and on over those years, as I ventured to Macs for 15 years and back to PC's, so my addresses are scattered amongst iCloud and OneDrive somehow. Thankfully, I only communicate with about 10 people from both sources, so no big. Thanks for sharing your process!

  25. 6014

    I moved all my contacts over from Gmail to Outlook a few years ago - all my calendar, contacts, email, everything, actually - and the experience on Android is still great.  I can even use Cortana and Google Now (or whatever they're calling it now) on the same phone.

    I will say, though, that I have had serious issues with duplicate contacts that won't merge, duplicate information fields, and undeletable information - and this happens regardless of what platform I use to view/modify the contact information: Web, Outlook, W10 contacts app, Android built-in client.

    Any ideas?

    • 5615

      In reply to Daekar:

      I really hate this, too. Somewhere along the way, multiple contacts got created for the same person with each contact entry having only one or two pieces of information (e.g., one contact entry might have address and phone # -- probably the original entry, another contact listing for the same person might be tied to a Skype name -- probably created automatically by the app, another to WhatsApp, etc.). It seems to happen mostly with IM/texting accounts.

      I haven't discovered an elegant way to correct this -- or to stop it. Sometimes the merge function works; sometimes it doesn't.

    • 6672

      In reply to Daekar:

      If you have any cloud synchronization enabled when trying to "manage" Outlook contacts, you will quickly discover that "What you see ain't what you got". So the contact you SWEAR you just deleted still appears in a list. Solution--simply walk away, get some coffee, and let the silent syncing magic occur. If you expect instant reality in your Contact management efforts you will be frustrated to no end.

  26. 5394

    This is no different than cleaning your old email, your music collection, old photographs, old receipts, old bills, old financial statements. Is it worth it? Depends if you can just let it go.

  27. 6446

    I"ve got three address lists, all Gmail: Work (GSuite) Personal and Treasurer (church). When I input addresses, usually on mobile, I input as carefully as I can, all the information at the time. About once a month, I use eM Client to regularize the phone number formats and place the address information in the right fields. I can sort by Last Updated in List View. Google does not have fields for City, State, Zip (postal) Code. Why, I do not know.

    eM Client thinks like the rest of the world, and not like the US, in how it orders its fields: It displays City, Zip, Country. To get the State field, you have to press the "More+" button to the upper right of the address field section.

    No one! has a field for Significant Other underneath the main name so you see both names at the top. If I'm calling someone, I'd like to know ahead of time which of the two might answer. I'd also like to see color coding or some kind of indentation where one could see which numbers were whose in that list. It's like everyone in the world is single to an address list, and no one is married. My pet peeve.

  28. 2235

    I just did this the other day on my phone. God, what a headache. For some reason outlook parsed all my contacts into 5 separate contacts, one for each category (home #, mobile #, e-mail, etc.) and some just blank contacts with only their name. I pick at it an hour a night trying to find some order in the chaos. It still a  rats's nest but less of one. If i had the money, I would pay someone to do this for me, that and organize my music collections which groove duplicated ad nauseum.

  29. 3272

    Paul, I use a Hotmail email that I have had for years as well. It is my primary email account. Is my @hotmail email also an @outlook email? Meaning if someone sent an email to my [email protected] it would work the same as sending it to my actual Hotmail email. I would like to use @outlook if I could but don't want to have to switch everything including everywhere I am currently registered with Hotmail.

    secondly, could you possibly consider doing a guide or pointing to a guide to that shows how to get contacts into Skype correctly, especially on Windows phone (win mobile 10). I could have really used it recently to be able to skype with a family member who was with my dying grandfather but because of all the issues we have had with skype and contacts, we have couldn't use it. Specifically, it will alter my contacts and completely alter my received text messages and who they are from. It also creates a 2nd and sometimes a 3rd contact for the same person. Would have been nice to be able to use it last weekend.

  30. 6750

    I use Google for personal contacts management. The only problem this creates for me is no Google contacts support in Outlook desktop. Not a massive problem as my personal communication is mainly done via gmail and my mobile phone. But its an irritation as I sometimes want to communicate with personal contacts via my desktop work email.

  31. 5625

    Contact management is one of the biggest potential areas for Microsoft to innovate, especially for business. Not so much the cleanup aspect you mention (which is still huge), but by bringing superior integration and BI/AI functionality (and not just LinkedIn-enhanced). CRM hints at the potential, but unless CRM is your core app, the benefits are difficult to realize since the integration is still so poor. Even then, CRM is just a glimpse of what's possible.

    Outlook/Office 365 contacts functionality is in need of a major "re-imagining." Not just brought into the modern age, but re-imagined finally for the digital era, rather than a digital port of a Rolodex. They exist nearly in a functional silo other than for mail merges (even auto-complete entries reference a separate db). If personal relationships and networking are fundamental pillars of business, Microsoft's core business software has done astonishingly little to support them. Keeping all hope of an evolutionary leap locked up in a poorly integrated separate system (Dynamics CRM) outside of Office 365/Office and Exchange prevents Microsoft from fulfilling their goals of being the go-to productivity solution.

  32. 10296

    I am in quite similar situation, only after reading this article I have decide that it is time for me to do some cleaning. It has been years since last time, and things are getting messy.

    My master location is desktop Outlook, it stores all the emails which then sync up to the cloud services and all what is related to the emails is great, but when it comes to contacts things get quite difficult as none of my accounts uses Exchange, they all are IMAP (yes, even Outlook.com).

    So I have contacts in desktop Outlook, contacts in Gmail and contacts in Outlook.com and they all are different.

    Here is what I did, both Google and Outlook.com allows to export contacts to .csv files and desktop Outlook allows to import these files to Outlook.

    I have exported all my contacts from Outlook.com and Google, imported them to desktop Outlook, moved all contacts to one folder and then used DuplicateKiller to scan through my list, unlike Google which just merges the duplicates, tool actually showed what it located and what is going to happen with my contacts, which was great as I had lots of similar contacts, which either looked similar but were in fact totally different persons or contacts which had similar information as they came from different sources, but in fact were duplicates.

    After the cleaning was done I did the same but in reverse, cleared all Outlook.com and Google contacts and re-imported them back.

  33. 5234

    In my business, I set up a Google Form where customers enter their own data.  Then I have an app script which takes the data from the Google Sheet, corrects any formatting mistakes (proper capitalization, phone number formatting, etc.), and feeds it into my Google Contacts.

    Customers put themselves into my contact list.  I don't have to do the work.

Leave a Reply