Keeping Track of People You Meet – The Unified Evergreen Address Book

I’ve had a few blog posts in the past about managing contact information and the various tools I’ve tried (you can read them here and here. I continue to look for a unified contact management system to keep track of the many people I meet. I’m looking for a unified system that can perform two core functions for me:

1. Capture all of the people I meet and all of the interactions I have with known people, regardless of channel (in-person, email, phone, events, etc) and store a record of that interaction. I call this the “people interaction log” for short.

2. Capture relevant contact information about those people and put it into a system where other services and applications can digest it – basically put it into a structured format so it remains useful to other applications and systems I use. I think of this as the “clean data about people API” that would be a really useful base service for lots of other apps I use.

The reason I care about this problem more today than I used to is that almost every new social service I use asks me to auth using some other existing data store or service such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn so they can get at my collection of friends and make it easy for me to share that service with them. It’s hard to spread the word when my contacts are scattered over tons of different services.

The one thing I”m unwilling to do is to just put everyone in one system. I am not willing to be friends with everyone on Facebook. I don’t want to add them all to LinkedIn. And I’ve tried a bunch of more structured data systems like traditional CRM tools and it feels like the effort to reward ratio is really out of whack. This seems like a problem that could be solved using today’s tools. A few thoughts on the tools I use today and where I think they fall short:

LinkedIn – I use LinkedIn to connect with people I meet in a professional context. Not everyone I know in a professional contact is a LinkedIn connection of mine, though – I haven’t gone through and added every past colleague or person I’ve met to LinkedIn. Plus, not everyone in my network is an active LinkedIn user.

Facebook – I used to use Facebook for just friends and then it became friends and co-workers and now it’s just turned into a real hodgepodge of friends, colleagues, people I know through work, and other folks I’ve met socially once or twice. But I generally don’t add people on Facebook that I don’t actually know personally – it doesn’t seem like the right vehicle for everyone I know.

Google Contacts – I do a lot on email, so Google Contacts is actually a superset of all of the people about whom I care. I do have an email relationship with just about everyone of importance to me. But Google Contacts as a raw data source isn’t that useful – it includes people and services that email regularly but do not get responses from me. And Google contacts doesn’t always do a great job of collapsing multiple email addresses into a single entity.

Highlight – As I’ve written about before, I like Highlight. It has the ability to provide some good ambient information about who I’m around on a regular basis. As more people use it, I suspect it will become an interesting data source for my people log. But it’s still the early days.

ConnectedHQ – I have been a fan of ConnectedHQ since the beginning and up to now (it’s now a part of LinkedIn). I think it’s one of the better, more intuitive CRM-light tools I’ve used. But it’s still a standalone application and destination that I need to visit to get access to the data. I want the data that’s stored in ConnectedHQ to be available to more of the other social applications and systems I use.

Rapportive / Xobni – These are two great tools for getting a sense for who the people are who are emailing you. Both are email sidebars that make it easy to have more context about the person on the other end of that email thread. And Rapportive in particular makes it super simple for me to add people to LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, etc from right inside my email client. But Rapportive doesn’t work on mobile and the data isn’t easy to get to outside of email.

Smartr – One of the best tools I’ve found of late is Smartr from Xobni. It’s great for on the go contact data retrieval – you just type in someone’s name and it uses the intersection of its index and services to which you are connected to find people you want. I find myself using it to recall people I know I’ve met before but where I can’t recall everything about him or her. It’s also great for a quick lookup prior to meeting someone for the first time – it works great on mobile.

Evernote Hello – I had high hopes for this product but I think the UI is just a bit awkward. But I do rely on Evernote to keep track of all of my notes and it would be nice to use Evernote as a people logger in addition to a notes logger.

So, at the end of the day I want a universal address book that aggregates all of the information about the people I know and meet that works on the web and my phone. And I want that system to be able to spit that data out in a way that other social and data services can consume it as an input for my social stream.

As always, feel free to leave comments below or send me a message on Twitter @chudson.

  • http://shaunjohnson.me Shaun Johnson (@idealexit)

    Great post and I think it is a pain felt by many. You start to see a bunch of modified/personal/social CRMs pop up all over the place. As none have responded to the issue entirely, I wonder if it only exacerbates the problem. From a UI perspective, it’s hard to be comprehensive enough and simply designed to be an intuitive solution. 

  • http://twitter.com/JSeedVentures Jeffrey Char

    Charles – Excellent post.  I share your pain.  The only other thing I would add is multi-lingual capability.  I waste so much time on this problem and would love to have a real solution I could rely on.

  • http://blog.writethat.name/ Brad Patterson @ Kwaga

    Love the tools that you’ve mentioned, Charles, and it would be wonderful it they could all be condensed to a single platform.  That’s a tall task, but I’d like to think it’s on the longterm roadmap of the startup in France I’m working with.

    You specifically mentioned Google contacts as a great resource for you. Have you given our app WriteThatname a try; it extracts contact info from signatures, and I’d say it’s right up your alley.

    Best from Paris, Brad 

  • http://twitter.com/hannaaase Hanna Aase

    I´m heading from Norway to San Francisco next week to try to create a product that solves exactly this, or more a easier way to keep in touch with contacts made. 

  • http://twitter.com/tbiz tbiz

     Curious about people’s experience with Highrise (which  doesn’t seem optimized for mobile but has some 3rd-party APIs for some mobile integration)?

  • http://profiles.google.com/madihalim Halim Madi

    I believe that if Google cracks this and integrates it into Google +, they’ve got a winner. Closing the gap between online and offline interaction is a golod mine

  • http://twitter.com/jcjohnson Jason Johnson

    love writethatname