Gmail Contacts finally becomes useful

Image representing Gmail as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

If you’re a Gmail user like me, 2008 seemed like a lost year.  Google did give us the Google Labs features, many of which were nice tweaks, but there wasn’t a significant improvement to the core application.  2009, as you know has been quite different.  We’ve seen the addition of many significant features, with offline sync being the most important.  Google added another ‘missing link’ in the communications hub with a task manager, which in its current state is a bit underpowered – but we can always hope for improvements.

One of the most frustrating parts of Gmail’s communications hub has been Contacts.  When first introduced (I believe last year), Contacts seemed to add all sorts of random contacts from inbound emails that I received.  When I dug around to find where they were coming from, many of these new ‘contacts’ were plucked out of emails that had large lists of people attached to them.  Most of these folks weren’t really my contacts, but Google thought they were.  This was just one of many frustrations I had with Google Contacts.  Just as with the core Gmail application, however, Google has begun to remedy shortcomings in Contacts in 2009.  A few days ago, Google announced true Contact (and Calendar) syncing with many smartphones.  Along with that announcement has come a steady set of changes to Google Contacts.  Today, Google has added four more, very significant, improvements to the Contacts function.  Here are two of my favorites:

Official Gmail Blog: Four changes to Gmail contacts

3. Remove people from My Contacts
You can finally move contacts out of the My Contacts group — especially useful if you’re planning to sync your contact list to your phone. Prune the contacts you don’t want synced to your phone from My Contacts (click “Groups” and then “Remove from My Contacts”), and they won’t get synced.

4. Search across all contact fields
We’ve heard you loud and clear, and contact search now works much better: instead of just searching contact names and email addresses, it now includes phone numbers, notes fields, and mailing addresses as well. So, if you’re visiting the Bay Area and looking for friends to catch up with, you could try typing “650” or “415” in the contact manager search box.

Contacts, it seems, are finally becoming useful. Along with the Activesync feature that went live a few days ago, I can finally consolidate my contact information to a single source and not have to maintain a separate list for my iPhone and Gmail. This is great news!

Now, make Google Contacts (and Gmail) an interaction hub
Contacts would become substantially more powerful if I could see my entire relationship with a contact in that view.  Google lets you query recent emails interactions with a selected contact, but we know that entire relationships aren’t captured in emails.  I’d like the ability to add date stamped notes to each contact – so I can record other interactions with people.  I’d also like the ability to connect Google Calendar events to contacts.  And, while you’re at it, connect tasks associated with contacts as well.

So far, 2009 has been a busy year for the Gmail team, and it looks like we’ll see a steady pace of improvements for Gmail.  Hopefully, they see the value of extending Contacts beyond a simple electronic Rolodex and into a powerful contact interaction hub where users can truly capture many aspects of their relationships with their friends and contacts.

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