Thinking About Contacts Management

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, 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 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 to that account. (This is configured in Options, Mail, Accounts in the 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 A lot of that is out-of-date, frankly, but it includes people—and their phone numbers—which aren’t in my Google account, so I sync this to phones too, so I can get at those numbers.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, 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— 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 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 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.


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


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