Rolodex card

When I was a kid, my dad would give me little tasks around his office to keep me out of trouble. My favorite was gluing business cards to Rolodex cards and carefully arranging them. Kept me out of trouble for hours at a go, because my father not only had plenty of contacts but also hated organizing his Rolodex himself.

Dear old Dad’s tried plenty of contact management systems in the intervening years from scanning business cards to handwritten notes in his daily planner. Low-tech or high-tech, none seem to work as well for him as that old Rolodex.

The two key complaints are always space and flexibility. Most software programs have little more than fields for a name, a few phone numbers and an address — if you’re lucky, you can add a website. Daily planners may not even have room for those details. There are no options, beyond a simple notes section for the details that might help you make a sale down the road or cheer up a friend.

One of the reasons that adding new contacts to Dad’s Rolodex was a time-consuming task was the need to transcribe all sorts of information off of the back of business cards before I was let loose with my glue stick. I learned to type by adding extra phone numbers, side businesses and a host of other details to the back of Rolodex cards: Dad notes these things down right after conversations so that he can remember all sorts of things about his new contacts. But those other systems he’s tried just don’t offer the flexibility necessary.

I have similar issues with many of the address books and contact managements systems I’ve tried. At this point, I use Gmail — not because I consider Gmail’s address book any sort of killer app for contact management, but because I use Gmail for all of my email, and the address book happens to be there. In its favor, I can access my contacts just about anywhere I can get an internet connection, but there are plenty of features I’d love to see added.

The Seven Improvements I’d Love to Have Made to My Address Book

  1. Searchability. Sure, you can search most contact management systems for names, or even employers. But I want to be able to type in a keyword, like ‘accountant’ and see a list of all the accountants I happen to know. Tagging would also suffice for my needs, but either way, I want to be able to find contacts based on information beyond a name.
  2. Easy customization. Gmail offers me the option of adding my own fields to my address book, and that’s nice. I’d like it, though, if I could add a few fields to the whole thing, rather than having to add it to each entry. For instance, I keep track of blogs as well as company websites, and it’s a bit of a hassle to add that entry to just about every contact I have.
  3. List management. Lists are another area where Gmail is giving it the old college try, but the fact that I have so many contacts makes the list management process unwieldy at best. Honestly, I’m not too sure about how to make it easier to handle, but Google’s got some brilliant minds — can you help us out, guys?
  4. Simple syncing. Every time I try to sync my cell phone and my address book, I wind up with tons of information that just isn’t useful. This is one context that I don’t need email address, extra notes or fax lines to make it into my ‘new’ address book.
  5. Automatic adding. Gmail’s habit of adding every email address that I send mail to from my account is amazingly useful. While Google is keeping track of all my personal data, though, why can’t they add all of the contact information that they have on my friends on Facebook directly to my Gmail address book? (I’d appreciate all those other social networking sites, too!) Easy importing of hard copy information — business cards, scribbled notes, etc. — would be great, as well.
  6. Updating systems. As it is, I have to go through my address book entry by entry to check if an email address or phone number is good. If the whole system is computerized, though, there should be a simple way to check all of the email addresses in one go. I’d like a simple report saying that a certain set of contacts has defunct information so that I only need to bother a few people. I’d also like a quick and easy way to delete all addresses from a given domain, such as the inevitable pile of Craigslist addresses that accumulate in my contact book solely because of responses I send to job listings.
  7. Personalized updates. This is pure wishful thinking, I know, but the fact that Gmail displays the last several email exchanges you’ve had with a particular contact got me thinking: why can’t the last couple of updates to a person’s blog or other updates about the person pop up as well? Alright, I admit I’m unlikely to get this one, but if I’m making a wish list of abilities for a contact management system, I think I’m allowed to list a couple never-gonna-gets.

So, what capabilities are missing from your address book? What ability would turn your contact management system into the perfect tool?

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