Previewing the new Google contacts

Google announced a new Contacts product yesterday. The introductory slides were promising:

  • Contact cards blend your own information about someone with what that person is sharing.
  • Duplicates disappear! It’s simple to review and merge duplicate contacts into one clean list.
  • No matter how you use Google, now all your contacts come together in one place.

After the welcome, I get a notification: “You have 21 duplicate contacts. Would you like to merge them?”

Automatic updating of contact information

Automatic updating of contact information will need to be done with care not to overwrite important information

Who wants duplicates, I think, sure, let’s merge them!  What Google found were contacts that had an email in one entry and a phone number in another, as if I had emailed and called them with separate apps and never matched the two. All was fine until a good friend, a female chemist ,was merged with an Indian male software engineer at Facebook. I agreed to the merge as it seemed to merge my friend’s two different emails addresses. It turns out that one cannot undo a merge after the full contact page is viewed and it was only there I realized that the merge was completely wrong. Now, evidently, what Google did was merge my friend’s contact information with a Google+ profile which a. I didn’t realize at the time and b. doesn’t belong to her at all, and c. is not even in my Google+ circles! I couldn’t disconnect the Google+ profile so I ended up copying her information into a document, deleting her profile, creating a new profile for her without her gmail… ouch.

This link to Google+ is where I started disliking the new contacts. I have always hated the fact that Google chose to show my Google+ circles as contacts. They’re not contacts, they are random people who I have never met. I call this the “hierarchy of contacts” – not everyone I am connected to on Google+, Facebook, Twitter or any other messaging app or social network is my close friend. Most I have never met, don’t call and don’t email. Contacts differ in importance and it is calling and emailing that, for me, define the personal relationship. These are “my contacts” the people who I need access to their phone number, email address, physical address and other personal information. The rest are “friends,” “connections,” and “followers.”

In the old contacts, Google created groups titled “My Contacts” which are 150 people I really know and need their information handy, even if infrequently. Then it listed “Circles” which I never looked at. Below those two it listed “Most Contacted,” 20 people I very frequently communicate with, and “Other Contacts,” people I rarely contact. So, if I ignored Circles, I could still use Contacts as I needed. Additionally, Google synced only the “My Contacts” list to my phone’s contacts. These are exactly the people who need to be synced.

However, in the new contacts, Google has decided to group things differently. First: 56 “Frequently Contacted” people that are probably a subset of the “My Contacts” minus those rare contactees. OK, I can live with that. Then, all the rest of the contacts were grouped together into 2000 “All Contacts” that include “My Contacts” and “Other Contacts” (my personal contacts) and “Circles.” This is useless, Google.

My two cents:

  1. What list will Google merge into my phone contacts? If it’s all my contacts, that will make my phone unusable. Period.
  2. When will Google realize that my Google+ circles are not my Contacts? I happen to like a lot of Google+ features, enjoy using it and appreciate the engagement I find there. But please, don’t merge My Circles with My Contacts.

Otherwise, the interface is smooth and the flow intuitive. I do like the “latest interactions” list where I can see when I exchanged emails or  attended an event with. I would like to see calls and hangouts on that list as well. The other new feature, where information is updated by the contact could work well, but Google will need to be careful not to overwrite necessary information with this feature.

PS This story does have a happy ending: the old version of contacts allows users to “restore” contacts and undo all evil. Google, y’all are smart when you want to be.



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