9,432 … Or 6,175 … Or 2,279.
Depending on the app doing the counting, those refer to the number of people I’ve collected as contacts over the past six or so years of my digital life. The number varies — actually, much more than I expected — but, regardless, it’s high enough that I’ve decided to seek outside help in keeping them straight.
As the number of social networking options grows — along with the number of contacts we amass through each of them — several apps have popped up claiming to bring the address book up to speed with the rest of our digitally-connected lives. Until now, I’ve resisted them, intrigued by their promises, but mostly skeptical that they could actually do too much to help.
But, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be a better correspondent with family and friends — including pals from years gone by whom I only see on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. So, I’m finally giving a few of these address-books-on-steroids a try. Here are some notes on what I’ve learned so far.
One of the newer apps out there, Addappt’s big pitch is that it automagically keeps the contacts in your iPhone’s address book up to date. In theory, it’s one of those concepts so useful and seemingly so simple, you wonder why your iPhone doesn’t do it yet. But in practice, it’s a little too clunky to be convenient – for the moment, at least.
Because the app is so new (it just launched a month ago on iOS), users need to request an invite code to access the app. Once the app is running on your phone, it syncs with the contacts in your address book. But in order for the auto-updating to happen, each contact needs to download the app and then approve you as a contact. The company emphasizes that greater privacy is the upside of this trade-off – but it still feels like it takes too many steps to reap the big benefits. It also doesn’t integrate with other social networks, so you don’t get access to your global roster of contacts.
Still, it’s a nicely designed app that breathes a bit more life into the standard address book — it pulls in photos of contacts when available and, for other contacts on Addappt, it tells you their local time zone so you know when (not) to call. And, it’s young: as it develops, it could smooth some its kinks out.
Brewster, which launched on iOS in August, really tries to be more of a people and relationship manager than just a digital address book. And though it has a few bugs, it does a pretty decent job. It aggregates your contacts from across all your social networks and then applies some big-data algorithms to help you make sense of it all. According to this app, I have 6,174 contacts (which I think is closest to the real number as it seems to de-dupe better than others, although it was still missing a few). But it organizes them by college, previous employers, industry, location and most mutual connections.
One of my favorite features is the “updates” tab, which highlights people celebrating a birthday, changing jobs or with whom you’re losing touch. It’s like a streamlined Facebook or LinkedIn newsfeed that provides light reminders for getting back in touch or reaching out. Its search function is also one of the strongest I tested. You can search for any keyword — from online media to sushi to Bon Jovi — to find people who might be most interested in a new job opportunity to grabbing last minute dinner to going to a concert.
But, it’s not without bugs either. Its interface emphasizes photos, so if you don’t have rich relationships with contacts, you might see a lot of grey silhouettes. And all that data crunching takes time – running searches felt longer relative to other apps. Also, even though you can manually edit profiles, be prepared for unexpected mash-ups of your contacts, like this one to the right of my colleagues Tom (the one in the photograph), Matthew (the one called out by name) and Ernie (the one who belongs to the bio).
One of the simpler apps I tried, Cobook is like the iPhone’s address book with just a little bit more pizzazz. The iOS app combines contacts from your address book and social networks but doesn’t try to do anything fancy with the data (like Brewster). For each contact, you get a minimalist profile with clickable tabs that take you to their Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter pages (although it does show recent tweets within the app). Even though it’s more basic than Brewster and Smartr (see below), there’s still something nice about the simplicity and it’s not as image-focused as Brewster, so you can view more contacts at once. It also makes sharing contacts with others and copying data to your iPhone’s address book easier than a few other apps — both functions can be done in just about one click.
I haven’t tried this one firsthand as it’s only available for Android devices, but as most of the others are iOS-only, I didn’t want to leave Contacts+ out. The app, which last month raised $1 million in seed funding, also aggregates contacts from across different social networks, but makes a point of letting people post and communicate from within the app. Like Brewster and Smartr, it prioritizes people according to how frequently you communicate with them. It also lets people choose between a grid view (that displays contacts’ photos) and a list view of their names — (an option I wouldn’t mind having on Brewster). It has a 4.5-star rating in the Google Play store and has been downloaded more than one million times, but to get its full functionality, users on both the sending and receiving ends of a message need to download the app.
Launched by email manager Xobni, Smartr seemed to offer the best balance of speed, search functionality, insights and design. It aggregates contacts from across all social networks, email accounts and your address book. The privacy conscious might not be thrilled by the level of detail it pulls in, but it includes some fun features, like the email history for each of your contacts, including a graph of your communication and the subject of your very first note.
Like Brewster, it prioritizes contacts by the frequency of communication and generates a list of mutual contacts, which I actually found easier to search (as it wasn’t image-based) and more complete (as it seems to do a deeper dive into your email). Similar to Brewster’s “updates” tab, Smartr’s opening screen rotates through various tweets and images from contacts. But I had a mixed reaction to it. I liked the lightweight updates and reminders for getting in touch with friends, but found the content to be dated and random. Instead of surfacing the most recent content, it surfaced tweets that were days old and it seemed to get stuck on just a few contacts instead of casting a wide net. Also, even though the company says it makes a point of de-duping, it clearly doesn’t de-dupe enough. According to the app, I have north of 9,000 contacts, but I spotted multiple entries (in some cases 5) for the same person.
Image by Milos Luzanin via Shutterstock.