Some thoughts on better contact management…

I recently came across this post from my Internet buddy Brandon Henak and I’ve been thinking about it all week. It was about using Plaxo for unified contact management and it went like this…

“The people in your network and the relationships you develop with them are some of your most valuable assets as a young professional. You look to them first for advice, job opportunities or just to discuss the latest events in your life. How you keep track of all the contact information you have collected in your personal and professional life is crucial to your success.

Contacts Everywhere!

In the poll we took earlier today we saw an interesting breakdown of contact management solutions, from relying on a cell phone to store contact information to using Microsoft Outlook, Facebook and other online sites. Each one of the solutions have their advantages and disadvantages. I have tried every one of the solutions listed with various degrees of success but, what if you could use each of them where they work the best, Outlook at the office, Mac Address Book at home and Plaxo online, without having to manually update each? I recently found a way to centralize and standardize all my contact and calendar information across all the services I use, automatically!

Sync them up!

Enter Plaxo 3.0 beta with Sync Points. After setting up an account, all I had to do was click on the “Add Sync Point” link for each of the programs I wanted to use (in my case Google, Mac Address Book, Outlook, and AIM) and it walks you through the process of putting in your login information for Google and downloading small add-ins for Outlook and Mac Address Book. Now, all of my sources sync together and I can sync all my contacts to my phone through Address Book. Any addition anywhere flows across the systems and is easily accessible.”

This was particularly interesting to me because I’m a Plaxo subscriber, but I’ve experienced a lot of problems with contact management. So what’s the problem?

A little background info…

I’ve been in marketing, sales, and technology for 25 years now and I have collect over 5,000 vcards and thousands more business cards that aren’t documented. I use 7 computers spanning three platforms and I want to access my contacts on all of them.

The answer?

The answer for me, like Brandon, starts with Plaxo for the following reasons:

  1. It’s platform and browser independent.
  2. It offers ‘sync points’ for the tools I use or have access to; Outlook, Thunderbird, a Treo 700wx running Windows Mobile 5. [Many more are available…]
  3. Members can choose to link to give one another the latest contact information as soon as it changes.
  4. The duplicate merger/remover is among the best I’ve used.
  5. There is a growing social network component which is a cross between Facebook and LinkedIn.

So if Plaxo is the answer, what’s MY problem? In a nutshell, using Plaxo was causing, not eliminating duplicates. Or, better said, using Plaxo with ActiveSync was causing duplicates. When I made the decision to stop using two synchronization tools simultaneously, my problems went away and I got closer to the promised land that Brandon was describing…

More background. I’m currently in the process of moving to Linux; I don’t want to pay ransom to Microsoft anymore and although I’m a former Apple account executive, I don’t want to pay for Apple’s industrial design when I can have the benefits of a Linux based operating system on inexpensive Intel hardware. The answer for me is Linux.

For now, however, my solution set consists of Plaxo, Microsoft Outlook 2003 [I only said I didn’t want to pay anymore – I’ll still use what I have], Gmail, Google Calendar and a Treo 700wx. I see myself moving off Outlook to Thunderbird/Lightning [Mozilla’s answer to contact and calendar management – Mozilla is only going to get better at this!] and off the Treo onto either a Blackberry or the Google Android platform. Thankfully [?], Sprint is forcing me to keep my current phone until September when the outlook on Google’s approach to cellphones should be known…

A big part of solving my problem was also to realize [thanks to David Allen] that some contacts are context sensitive, namely, that I don’t need to be able to call all 5,000 people from my cellphone – some I only need to be able to access when I’m sitting at a computer. I was actually synchronizing contacts for which I didn’t have a telephone number to my phone! Why? Because I was going to send them an email from the phone? Unlikely. In reality, I have found that after careful analysis, I actually need to synchronize less than 200 contacts between my phone and my computer and if I really were honest with myself, there are probably less than a hundred people that I call on a regular basis. So, I copied all my contacts to a folder called ‘Master’ in Outlook and deleted all contacts that I either hadn’t called or didn’t anticipate calling this quarter [there’s a copy of the deleted contacts in Master, remember?] As a result, I’m only synchronizing what I have to now. This is a HUGE savings of time and energy and silly as it may seem, actually represents a massive epiphany for me. Call me Captain Obvious?

The underlying idea here is getting closer to a world where it doesn’t matter what computer or platform you’re using – your information is accessible from anywhere! Plaxo can get you a good part of the way there…

By the way, if you’re not using Google Desktop, start! It can unify all the computers you’re using and allow you to search your Gmail and your computers in the same way you search the internet now…

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About Todd Lohenry
I can help you get found online. Go to toddlohenry.com/start to learn more...

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