Using FullContact to responsibly declare Contact Bankruptcy


I decided to declare Contact Bankruptcy – it’s based on the premise of email bankruptcy where you delete all your emails and assume that if you’ve missed any critical email, the original sender would email you with a reminder of sorts. When I declared contact bankruptcy, it was the idea of deleting all of my contacts and starting again.

For most people, this is probably not an issue. I’m actually often times shocked about how laissez faire most people are about their contacts. Not me. I’m obsessed with information correctness especially about personal information especially contact information. To give you some context, I’ve been managing my personal information electronically since around 1995. I’ve countless desktop software (i.e. Lotus Organizer, Microsoft Outlook, Palm Desktop) before transitioning to various online services (Google Mail, Yahoo, Microsoft Hotmail, Plaxo, Gist). As a result of porting data from one system to the next, I have all of the issues that come with large ETL projects and it’s resulted in really dirty contact data. Of all the issues, the ones that drive me most mad is that I have contacts who are either irrelevant (i.e. contact information is no longer valid so I can’t contact them anyway), information that is incorrect (fields filled with incorrect information due to a messed up export/import) and contacts that have been incorrectly merged. One particular pet peeve – I have well over 300 contacts that have an anniversary date of Dec 31, 1969. In itself may seem harmless except that on New Year’s even, I have 300 recurring events of fictional anniversary dates. The most telling sign for me is that my contact list is over 3000 contacts long and I sure don’t know 3000 people. So I decided to declare contact bankruptcy.

However I needed to do it in a responsible way. In order to accomplish this, I decided to use a combination of Full Contacts alongside Gmail. Full Contacts is a service that allows you to synchronize contacts information across a combination of address books like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail and then enriches and contact information using social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The other two features that I also use rigorously are detecting and merging duplicate data as well as the ability to move contact information from one account to the next.

I have always had 3 different contact accounts – one for personal, another for work and the last one is used primarily for social media or non-essential communication. Full Contact allows you to only unify one Gmail account which works in my favour. Given how anal I am about contact information, it was most natural for me to select my personal account as my primary account. Here are the subsequent steps that I took to declare contact bankruptcy

Back up just in case

While I don’t know 3000, I certainly know more than 0 people that I have to communicate and contact with on a frequent basis. Of the 3000 contacts that are in my system, I’m not sure which ones I will ever need to refer back to again. To be on the safe side, I decided to backup my personal and work contacts to my social account. Google has some really awesome mechanisms for you to import and export data out of your system. From your contact view, click on More followed by Export contacts. I opted to export in vCard Format (VCF) format as it is the easiest and richest way to export your contact information. I then imported the contacts into my social Gmail account. For all intents and purposes, I’m using my social Google account as my staging account where all data gets merged.

Set up Full Contact and clean up of contact accounts

Once my data was backed up, I decided to set up my Full Contact account by attaching my 3 Google accounts to Full Contact. This also now acts as a secondary backup of contact information of my contacts. I also set up my personal Gmail account as the “Unify Contacts” account as that would be my primary contact account. I also added all the relevant social accounts that I had. Full Contact then did it’s magic by both cleaning up duplicates to all accounts while enriching data to my personal accounts from all the various social media sites

Once the data was backed up, I first removed all contacts from the “My Contacts” group and then proceeded to add all the people whom I am in constant contact with. Google has a pre-selected contact group called “Most Contacted” and picked all the contacts that I would be in regular contact with. I believe Google looks at who you’ve been emailing to select that list. I then also went to select contacts that I am in constant contact with outside of email. I then removed all contacts from the other contacts bucket and that left me with about 20 contacts that was cleaned up.

Migrating contacts

Every once in a while, I’d come across someone that I need to contact that was previously in my contact list. The process is then to go to Full Contacts, do a search for that contact on Full Contact and then copy the contact over to my personal account. It also gives me the opportunity to do any additional data clean up

I’ve had this running for a few months now on the free version of Full Contacts. It saved me the hassle of writing my own app which I was started doing. There are a few annoyances that I still face which are more Google specific. For one, Google automatically syncs my Google+ contacts to my personal contact information because of how Circles work. The premium version of Full Contacts offers real time sync information, increasing the number of your contacts to 25000 from 5000 and daily updates by scanning through publicly available information.