Just keeping a mailing list current can be a chore. “Between
2011 and 2012, 12 percent of people in the country over the age of 1 moved at
least once,” according to a December 2012 post at the official U.S.
Census Bureau blog
. That means that the address of one out of eight
of your contacts need to be updated each year.

Mass mailers update their address lists with services. For
example, in the U.S., the NCOALink (National Change of Address) service
identifies address changes, and improves address accuracy (e.g., updating five
digit postal codes to more location-specific nine digit codes). The mailer pays
a fee for the service and ends up with a more accurate address list.

But your Google Contacts list contains more than just people’s
mailing addresses. It contains phone numbers and email addresses. For
professional contacts, it contains company names and job titles. All of this
information can change without an address change. And it takes time to

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That’s pretty much what Scrubly
is: a web-based updating service for Google Contacts. With your permission,
Scrubly updates your contact list with information drawn from Facebook,
LinkedIn, and Twitter. It also consolidates duplicate contact information and
deletes blank contacts. (You may manually modify Scrubly’s recommendations any time.)
Scrubly writes the updated information back to your Google Contacts list.

Scrubly charges a fee of $19.95 for a “one-time scrub”
of your contacts, or $39.95 per year for an unlimited number of “scrubs”
during the year. If you have fewer than 250 contacts, Scrubly is free.

In addition to updating Google Contacts lists, Scrubly also
works with Outlook and Mac contact lists. With Google Contacts, Scrubly imports
and export the data via the web. When using Scrubly to update Outlook or Mac
address book contacts, you’ll need to install a bit of software on your system
to help with the import and export process.

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Google Contacts

Here’s a look at the Scrubly contact update process for
Google Contacts. The steps below assume you’ve created a Scrubly account,
logged in, and started the six-step “scrub” process.

Scrubly cleans and updates your contact list using a 6-step process

1. Upload

First, you need to give Scrubly permission to access your
Google Contacts. Scrubly then imports these contacts. In my case, Scrubly
retrieved all 1,322 of my contacts.

Scrubly imports your contacts while displaying amusing messages

(During the import process – and throughout the scrub – you’ll
see various messages suggestive of the “reticulating splines” message
you might remember from SimCity. Messages like “Loading world maps…”,
“Checking with Strunk & White”, and “Rhythmically applying
the bubbles”.)

The Express Scrub identifies obvious duplicates; the Deep Scrub compares
data in more fields

2. Express Scrub

Next, you have the choice of an Express Scrub or Deep Scrub.
The Express Scrub consolidates duplicate contacts, and removes blank and “system
default” contacts (i.e., the sample contact records that often come with
new systems). The Deep Scrub takes more time, but identifies more potential
duplicates by comparing data in more fields. A Deep Scrub includes an Express

When duplicates are identified, you have complete control
over how each record is handled. Scrubly prefers to preserve data, so when
duplicate records are consolidated no data is lost. Of course, you can always
choose to preserve records. You can also edit individual fields in records
identified as duplicates. Scrubly works to make sure you don’t lose any useful
data in the cleaning process.

Scrubly reports Express Scrub impact after you review identified duplicates

3. Deep Scrub

Before a Deep Scrub begins, you select rules for Scrubly to
use. For example, one rule looks for: “Scans for matching names. The
contact name plus email address, phone number or address must match. Phone
numbers are matched across Work, Home and Other.”

Potential duplicates are identified and presented for your
review. The review process may take some time, as you really should look at
each individual case. The Deep Scrub sometimes identifies contacts as
duplicates when they are not. For example, I have two contacts named “Holly
Ross”. Scrubly identifies these as possible duplicates, yet I’m confident
that they are two distinct people. The review process lets me keep both

You choose the rules that Scrubly uses for Deep Scrub duplicate detection

4. Shining Contacts

In this phase, Scrubly removes duplicate data within contact
records. This eliminates the problem of having the same email address or phone
number listed in multiple fields within a contact record.

Scrubly also standardizes all your phone number fields to a
format you specify. I choose XXX-XXX-XXXX, but you might also select several
other standard phone number formats (e.g., XXX.XXX.XXX, (XXX) XXX-XXXX, etc.). 

5. Social Update

Next, Scrubly can pull information from social networks you
use to update your contact list. This lets you add more current information to
your contacts list. A colleague might have updated their job title on LinkedIn
or Facebook. This process lets you add that information to their contact

If you use multiple social networks, you’ll need to
prioritize the information. For example, Scrubly can import a contact’s photo
from any of the three networks to which it connects: LinkedIn, Facebook, or
Twitter. You need to decide which photo to use. Since I use my contact list
primarily for business purposes, I prioritize the networks in exactly that
order (LinkedIn first, Facebook second, and Twitter last).

During this step you may choose to allow Scrubly to
Overwrite your existing information. If your contact list is quite out of date,
it may be smart to select the “Overwrite” box for fields likely to be
out of date, such as Job Title and Company Name. Similarly, if you don’t have
photos of most of your contacts, you might allow the Photo field to “Overwrite”
existing data. (I ran Scrubly once without Overwrite selected on most of these fields,
then re-ran it with Overwrite selected. I was happier with the results
with Overwrite selected. My contacts tended to have provided more accurate
information on social networks than I had in my contacts list.)

Choose how Scrubly updates your contacts’ information from Facebook,
LinkedIn and/or Twitter

6. Download

Finally, Scrubly provides a full report of changes before
sending the scrubbed contacts list back to your account. The final process
deletes all of your existing contacts, and then replaces them with the scrubbed
data. Importantly, Scrubly saves your original data. Should you realize later
that the scrubbed data was somehow faulty you can always return to Scrubly and
choose to restore your original data.

Review a full report before sending the scrubbed data to your account

Bottom line

I’ve found Scrubly useful in two different scenarios. In
one, Scrubly helped me quickly consolidate multiple digital contact lists: I
could import lists from several sources to Google Contacts, then rely on
Scrubly to help me consolidate and delete duplicates. In the other case, I rely
on Scrubly about once a year to update contact information for my contacts from
social networks. I like having current photos and job contact information right
in my contact list.

In an ideal world, communication would be like Star Trek: we would simply speak a contact
name and a communication channel would automatically open. In the meantime, I’ll
rely on Scrubly to clean up and update my Google Contacts with information from
social networks.

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