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My incredible shrinking address book

Last week, I was looking up a friend's contact information in my computer's address-book program, noticed the name after his and thought, "When's the last time I ever heard anything from this person?"

A search of my e-mail confirmed that the answer was somewhere between "three years" and "never," after which a tap of the delete key wiped this contact from my list. But then I realized that the individual listed a few spots farther down in my address book had also been a non-entity in my inbox -- and, as her LinkedIn page confirmed, had long since left the company she had been listed under. So I deleted her entry, too.

The thought that I'd been wasting screen space on people with whom I'd never had any interaction somehow bothered me. And so I found myself spending the next hour or so going through my contacts list and repeating the same two searches of various individuals -- one through my e-mail to look up our last communication, one of the Web to check their current employment -- to gauge their address-book eligibility.

I repeatedly found that I'd typed in people's coordinates from business cards after meeting them but had never communicated with them again, and that the vast majority of these people had long since moved on to other jobs. This seems an especially high risk in public relations, where even people who stay with the same firm can change accounts, but I was embarrassed to find that I hadn't corrected listings for a few former Post colleagues who have recently left the paper.

(Tip: If you use Apple's Address Book, you can set up a Smart Group list of address cards that haven't been revised lately: From the File menu, select "New Smart Group..."; in that dialog, select "has not changed in" from the second pull-down menu and then enter an appropriately long value in the days/weeks/months/years field that follows.)

I also kept realizing that my saved e-mail was a better source of business-contact info than my address book -- it helps that e-mail programs automatically complete addresses you've used recently -- while Facebook was a more reliable source for personal contacts. Both of those alternate sources have the advantage of being regularly updated by the people you want to stay in touch with.

It's popular in some circles for people to pronounce that social networks are making e-mail obsolete. But maybe social media are only displacing the address book -- or at least the part of it in which we file away people's "home," "work" and "other" e-mail addresses.

So who stayed in my own address list? Two categories stood out: people with mobile phones listed -- after completing my purge, I actually added a few business contacts who had given me their cell numbers -- and friends and family to whom we send holiday cards. (By "we," I mean my wife, who long ago realized that if she left that task to me we'd be mailing out Groundhog Day cards.)

I'm not going to claim that my address-book cleanup was entirely rational. (For instance, I cannot bring myself to delete my dad's entry, even though he passed away more than a decade ago.) Nor am I going to suggest that everybody can or should think along these lines -- as a contrary example, a D.C.-based reporter I know has 15,000 contacts (!) in his copy of Microsoft Outlook. (He asked what sort of mobile phone would deal most effectively with that many contacts; I had to tell him that I had no idea and had no way of finding out without borrowing his own copy of Outlook.)

I'd like to know the ways you all handle these things. How well do you have to know somebody before they get a spot in your address book, and how do you decide when it's time to delete any one of them?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 22, 2010; 12:07 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Social media  
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I did the same thing with my Facebook friends and people I was following on Twitter. I think I defriended/unfollowed over 100 people!

Posted by: leffron | February 22, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

My primary e-mail solution is Gmail and I have adopted a regular ritual of cleaning up my Contacts since Gmail saves EVERYTHING and I need to sort out 'realy' contacts from those that I responded to once (e.g., Craiglist ads). My biggest problem stems from contacts that exist solely as an e-mail address and I don't know who they belong to. In most cases, however, they came off one of several lists and I need to be able to contact them.

Since I am now back to using a Mac as a home computer it would be great if there was a way to sync Address Book with my Gmail Contacts.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | February 22, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I cannot avoid this post as it relates to what my business is. My company CYNCZ (synckz) ( is a contact synchronization management company. We are trying to make everyone's life easier by synching your contacts from your all address books and taking every version of each contact and then converting it to one version of truth and sending it back to all address books. This itself will shrink your address book to quite an extent. If you don't want to sync all contacts, you have the option to set rules on granular basis. Also you can group and tag your contacts for more control and management of your contacts.
We have plan to also create a self-learning intelligent tool where it can group some very old not frequently used contacts to be categorized into one group. This will save your time looking up for old/rarely used contacts and to delete them.
@Ebola_22039: We are going to provide an interface to sync Mac Mail with Gmail very soon.. Please register at our website and we'll send updates. However, we are now synching GMail with Outlook, live mail/hotmail, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and salesforce.
Check us at

Posted by: ashjaya | February 22, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Using Microsoft Entourage, I have created a category of "Dormant" and given it the color gray. I label contacts with this category as a sort of intermediate step short of flat-out deletion. The labeled contacts then appear in gray in my contact list. If I ever use the contacts, I take off the dormant label and restore them to the living. If not, I eventually delete them.

Posted by: Rhododendron | February 22, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Click on the blue link "About Bob Pegoraro" to learn his true identity. Yes -- Senator Jim Webb of Virginia!

Posted by: rfredjohn | February 22, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't bother maintaining an address book. It is too hard to keep it up to date and synchronized from PC to PC and phone to phone. If someone calls me or I call them, I'll add their number to my phone. My Christmas card list comes from a Word Document of address labels I made years ago.

Posted by: slar | February 22, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Is it appropriate to use the comments section of the blog for commercial purposes? I would like to see the blatant sales pitch removed.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | February 22, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Keep birthdays, anniversaries, dates of decease in address book on Apple; they show up in my calendar--

Posted by: JoeMthPce | February 23, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

My "Primary" contacts database in CardScan, because it allows searching on any field (name, address, phone number, notes) and dynamically searches as eash character is entered. Here, I always ad the context of how I met someone, such as mutual friends name, project assignment, etc, so I can find them later. I use Act! as my contact manager, and only port over active contacts, same for phone and email. This way, I always have CardScan as the life journal, including several entries for specific individuals, which tracks their job changes, and yes, my deseased parents are in there too!

Posted by: jcarapellucci | February 23, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

@ebola: Gmail/AB sync on Macs exists; it just is hidden by default if you don't have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Here's a howto on enabling it in those cases:

Posted by: sweth | February 23, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I go through Outlook each December and review each contact. I add and delete contacts at that time.

Posted by: RPCA | February 23, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

For me cleaning contacts is like cleaning under the frig...I do it when I have to get a new one...uggggg

Posted by: tbva | February 23, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Friends? I don't have any now! Saving a bundle on soap, too.

Contacts? I'm retired now! They can't contact me and I don't want to hear from those back-stabbers!

Lists? Waste of paper/electrons!

Next problem? :-P LOL!!!

Posted by: xairbusdriver | February 24, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

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