Update your Google Contacts list with social media info

Update your Google Contacts with Scrubly, a contact list update service for the social media era.

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 maintain.

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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 Scrub.

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 records.


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 record.

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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