On Contact Management

I’m writing this on the train back from Chicago, where I attended Print ’05 for the past week. Print is a large graphics trade show, and I spent several days doing competitive research. It’s somehow a lot of fun, kind of boring, and very tiring all at the same time.

Anyway, I also ended up learning a lot more about contact management, Outlook, my iPAQ and Activesync, Plaxo and LinkedIn than I expected or wanted to. All of these things are wonderful inventions and each provides a lot of value. However, when you connect them together across two computers and a PocketPC, life gets interesting. Here’s the story:

As always at a trade show, the main benefit is meeting new people and the resultant networking. I believe networking is one of the most powerful things a person can do in life, and trade shows are the ultimate opportunity. Aside from that, having quick and ready access to a great contacts database is a key tool for getting the most out of a show. So I’m busy meeting folks, collecting cards, and in the evening working to get them entered and a thank-you email sent out. I fire up my laptop and enter a bunch of contacts, or I add few to my iPAQ while riding a shuttle or waiting for colleagues at happy hour. I then started to run into problems.

First, trying to sync my iPAQ to my laptop results in a lot of confusion on the part of the iPAQ, which wants to sync to my desktop back at work, and keeps going out on the net to find it. I had been desperately trying to get my iPAQ to do this via a wireless connection, and never could get it to create the proper VPN link on it’s own, but somehow got something set that has it trying very hard to do the same thing when connected to my laptop.

Second, trying to sync my iPAQ to my laptop proved to be a problem because I normally sync with my desktop at work. Activestink wants to duplicate all my contacts, which is not a good thing.

Third, I finally get the contacts entered into my laptop and then try to email the contacts – they won’t show up in the address book! I look in the contacts list, but when I try to enter then in the To: line of an email, it doesn’t work…

Finally I decide to skip the emails and get the contacts uploaded to LinkedIn so I can invite folks to connect. I go through the upload process, but the contacts won’t upload. LinkedIn tells me there are no new contacts.

Grrrr!

After a bit of searching, I finally find that the problem is that each contacts folder has a checkbox in it’s properties that specifies that that contacts folder should be a visible outlook address book. This is the magic button, so to speak, and as soon as I check it I have contacts visible and ready to email to. I also find that LinkedIn now finds them just fine.

As for the syncing, I went ahead and allowed the duplicates to be created. I realized that Plaxo has an awesome feature that removes & resolves duplicates and near duplicates – a feature that frankly ought to be built-in to any contact manager. After the sync, which dutifully duplicated everything, I ran Plaxo which then fixed everything. Plaxo rocks.

In the end I got everything entered, and all the email sent, and the LinkedIn invitations will go out soon enough. But I beseech Microsoft to consider the 3-computer syncing problem. It seems that anything designed to synchronize data sources seems to choke with 3 computers – the extra path just gets things confused. I’ve got to believe the industry can figure this out, and it really needs to. The days of working on just one computer are over, and we need our stuff to sync between whatever computers & PDAs we have.

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