All contacts in sync (+1 for the iPhone)

So new employer has given me an iPhone and despite my dislike of vendor lock-in I really like it.

One thing I've now managed to achieve is a single, central set of contact data. Like most geeks I had people's email addresses, phone numbers and postal addresses scattered across various devices and email profiles. In my case this included a Nokia 6130, my laptop's Thunderbird profile, various work Thunderbird profiles, my Gmail account and my trusty old Palm Tungsten E2. None of these stores of contact data were being synced. Contacts were added haphazardly as required.

No longer. The mess has been solved through the use of a variety of tools.

Getting an iPhone was the tipping point. Suddenly it was possible to sync contact (and calendar) data over the air, without needing to connect to a PC. This is very attractive to me. I like being able to sync even when away from the computer where iTunes is installed. I'm using the excellent (and free) NeuvaSync service for this. It hijacks the iPhone's Microsoft Exchange support to push changes to contact data to and from Google Contacts.

I've chosen Google Contacts as the central storage point for this data because it's reliable, I already have a populated gmail account and (mainly) because of the large number of tools that can interface with it.

Syncing to the various Thunderbird instances I use is done using the Zindus extension. This syncs Thunderbird's address book with Google Contacts. It works fairly well as long as you remember to stick to Google's rules about contact entries (eg. email addresses must be unique across all contacts). It will warn you if there's a problem.

So, that covers syncing contact data to everywhere I need it: iPhone, Gmail and Thunderbird.

The final challenge was to pull together all the contact entries I had around the place and merge them into Google Contacts. This was a long and messy process that was helped by some adhoc Python hacking. To get the data out of my Palm I used the pilot-address tool that ships with the pilot-link package. The excellent Gnokii tool pulled the contacts out of my Nokia (over Bluetooth, no less!). I wrote some Python scripts to help merge the highly imperfect sets of data, trying to make intelligent guesses where possible. Finally, OpenOffice Calc was used to manually fix the CSV before importing into Google Contacts.

It took a long time and many editing iterations but I now have a clean, centralised set of contacts. Say what you like about me needing to get out more, but I think this is awesome (and it was a worthwhile learning process).


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