I get a lot of email – hundreds of emails a day. My contact list is a mess – many thousands of contacts, many with extremely out of date information and lots of duplication, format errors and the like. I’ve always been interested in cleaning up my contact list – in part because t would help drive my productivity but largely because my obsessive compulsive tendencies would appreciate a contact list with correctly formatted phone numbers, full contact details and the like.

Recently I was told about an interesting service called writethat.name. The idea behind the service is that we all get emails with lavish email signatures but generally we ignore the data within those signatures. Writethat.name scans our emails and updates our contacts with all the useful information trapped down there in the signature – phone numbers, URLs, twitter handles etc. Alongside scanning daily email to update contacts, the company has an additional product, Flashback, which scans through past emails to update existing contacts. While the older the emails are, the less accurate the signature data is likely to be, writethat.name also has a degree of duplicate merging technology to ensure that the most up to date information for any particular contact is included in a users contact list.

I decided to give the product a go and scanned five years of email to update contact details. The results were interesting to say the least. From the notification email:

  • Scanned 214,078 e-mails
  • Spotted 30,967 valid signatures
  • Identified 3,376 different contacts
  • Compared this to your current address book
  • Updated 3,020 contacts in Google Contacts

That’s an awful lot of updated information and my contact list is definitely in better shape than before. While the service did a great job of what it set out to do, it seems to me that the ultimate contact list updater is a mixture of lots of different services. What I’d like to see, all in one offering, is:

  • A service that goes deep into contacts and looks for duplicate names, email addresses, phone numbers etc and de-duplicates. I’ve used Scrubly before and this does a pretty good job of this part
  • A service that extracts contact information from emails, both past and current. This is where writethat.name comes in
  • A service that goes through an entire contact list and smartly normalizes phone numbers – I have phone numbers with international codes, with local codes only, with spaces, with brackets, with plus signs and without – I ‘d love to see them all resolved in a way that works nicely on my phone
  • A service that trawls the web to find social information related to the sender of an email I’m looking at (tip of the hat to Rapportive which I find indispensible for this)
  • Lastly and most importantly I want a service that goes out to the outside world and trawls public information to ensure contact information is as up to date as possible. This is the area that Jigsaw (now owned by Salesforce) fills and it’s something that would be super valuable to me

So there you go – that’s my wish list for a contact list manager – if someone knows of something that ticks all or most of those boxes, please let me know!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • I’ve used xobni for about 4 years and it’s so good I’ve been on the paid version called xobni Pro for 3 years.

    Xobni for Outlook is unbelievably useful, though I was less wowed by the Gmail version.

    As well as scanning my entire inbox and providing the best search of conversation threads ever built – xobni for Outlook does those first 4 things in your list. It brings in contact details from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn and even has a two-way connector for Salesforce which I use.

    If you use Outlook xobni will change your life. I’m not so sure about the Mac and gmail versions.

    I see rumours that they could be acquired by yahoo – which is probably not a good thing judging by the awful yahoo email interface that Telecom uses.

    Try their free download before yahoo messes with it!

  • Paul Miller |

    Yup – writethat.name is pretty good. And Rapportive remains an indispensable tool in the kit.

    My address book is still messier than I’d like, though…

  • I use Full Contact to pull and write social data to my Google Contacts (I wish Rapportive did this, but sadly, it does not). I use Contactually to extract contact data from email signatures and write it to my Google Contacts (will try writethat.name as well). I’ve tried Scrubly but wasn’t all that impressed. I also wasn’t too impressed with Xobni’s Gmail extension. I wish Fliptop or Rapleaf had an extension to write the data they aggregate to Google Contacts as well.

    Has anyone found a good tool that normalizes phone numbers?

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