August 10, 2010

Google Revamps and Simplifies Contacts In Gmail

Gmail's introduction in 2004 changed the way people interact with Web-based mail, moving us away from needing to carefully prune old messages to save space, and introducing a conversation-oriented interface, with new label-based hierarchies, away from the desktop metaphor of folders. But while Gmail's innovation has been clear, Google's approach to Contacts has lagged, making it the target of frustration from many users. Today, the company admits as much, saying it's the thing people "are least satisfied with" about Gmail. They hope a number of improvements, rolling out immediately, will help.

The goal of the many changes introduced to Google Contacts today is to make using Contacts as intuitive as Gmail, bringing keyboard shortcuts, automatic saving, and the ability to undo edits you may have made in error. This way, if you already are a Gmail power user, you will be a Contacts power user as well.

Sorting by Last Name in Contacts

In addition to the "Gmail-ization" of Contacts, the company added the option to sort by Last Name, the ability to add custom labels for phone numbers or other items, structured name fields, for titles and other details, and a more prominent notes field, so you can say just why somebody is in your address book in the first place. Also, with the upgrade, Contacts and Tasks also occupy a more prominent position in Gmail than before, sliding up the left sidebar to the top, just underneath the Gmail logo.

Editing A Contact in GMail

You Can Undo Changes In Contacts

The new Contacts view makes it easy to get all of a person's details from one place, and make edits. You can easily add job titles and family relationships, or "view recent conversations" to see the last time you traded e-mail or chats with the person. This, thanks to the tie in with Google Buzz, also surfaces Buzz posts that match the search criteria.

Merging Duplicates In Gmail

Also, for power users, you can now merge contacts from the "More Actions" menu, if you have made duplicates, or you can choose to "Find and merge duplicates", handy for the many of us who have made imports only to find friends' records multiplying. I myself merged 75 duplicate records, so I don't have names repeating ad nauseam when I go looking for numbers in my Android phone - closely tied to Contacts.

As somebody who was more closely tied to the Apple Mail and Address Book infrastructure, Google Contacts hadn't always taken a front seat in how I manage people and relationships. Moving to Android, adopting GMail more strongly, and seeing the rise of Buzz as a platform has made getting this right increasingly important. Today's moves will make it seem more natural and fluid - as Apple used to always get right, but for the Web, not the desktop.

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