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How to Keep Your Personal Contacts Synced and Up To Date

I’m a big fan of Google Mail. I can’t count the times it has saved me from a lot of trouble. I used to keep a contact list on Outlook and managed to sync it to my various cell phones via sketchy software that barely worked and required a lot of editing. These days your data plan is such that you can sync from Google, Microsoft, or any one of a number of other services.
I’ve worked as an IT technician in some form or another for the past decade and I don’t know how many times someone has come to me complaining that their personal contacts were lost. There are a few really common situations that cause this.

1. Loss or change a job. This is the most common by far. Your contacts were all on your company’s Exchange or RIM server and now your account has been blocked. Note that being fired isn’t the only reason this can happen. Simply changing jobs and forgetting to back them up can cause this. Note: Some companies might not want you keeping your customer contacts on your phone after you leave, so be careful here and always follow company policy. Keep in mind that if they have a policy like this, they should be providing you with a CMS system or something to keep everything separate. If you are an IT pro or small/medium business owner and are interested in customer management software, contact me, my consulting rates are pretty inexpensive.

2. Server/PC Crash. I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen this. E-mail server dies, contacts go away. Have to rebuild the server, backups sucked and they are just gone. Sometimes they taunt you by showing up as blank contacts.

3. New Phone. Settings sometimes don’t transfer.

So how does one prevent this? Well like a lot of computer related things, it’s usually a matter of changing your habits. Industry people like to throw around the term “Best Practices” because it sounds fancier.

Best Practices for Keeping Contacts

First things, first, get away from Outlook on your computer for your personal contacts. Go sign up for an, Gmail, or potentially even Yahoo! Mail. I heavily suggest the Microsoft Option or the Google option, stay away from Yahoo!, they are way more ad happy now than the other two.
I will assume you went with the Gmail option for now, though if you went with Microsoft Live, drop a note below or contact me. I’d like to write a how-to using it.
The next thing you want to do is export your contacts from Outlook or whatever other program you were using and import them into Gmail. Google has kindly put up a page that will tell you how to do this from a lot of other providers.
Exporting Contacts From Other Providers
Once you’ve got your CSV file, you import them into Gmail. Once again, Google has provided this information, so I won’t repeat it here. Here’s the link:
Importing CSV Files Into Gmail
After you’re done importing your contacts into Gmail, make sure they are cleaned up like  you want. Gmail has a tendency not to put meaningful labels on email addresses or phone numbers after import. So if someone has multiple phone numbers, you’ll want to make sure to label them with “Home”, “Work”, or “Mobile” so your phone can tell you where they are calling from. You’ll also want to do the same with addresses, e-mail addresses, and anything else. I like to make sure the phone numbers are formatted correctly and add job titles and companies to my contacts, even if they are friends and family.
Once your contacts are cleaned up, you’ll want a backup. I don’t think Google is in danger of going away any time soon, but you may change e-mail addresses or something weird might happen. You might also want a CSV copy of your cleaned up contacts for other reasons. For instance, mail merge software might use it. So keeping a backup is good, I back mine up like this a few times a year. All you want to do is export your Google Contacts. Here’s the relevant link. I’d go with the Outlook CSV file as it’s more widely recognized by other software, the Google CSV is fine for a local backup though.
Export Google Contacts to CSV

Syncing Contacts With Your Phone

So here’s how to sync contacts with your phone. If you have an Android you likely already use a Gmail account with it, everything is automatic, though you may need to change which set of contacts it displays. You can tinker with this in your Contacts app settings. This is slightly different on the various Android phones out there so I won’t post any instructions here. Likely as not you can search for your phone model and “display contacts” and get what you need.
IPhone Users – This is the one that most people are probably looking for. Fortunately Google has a great help file on this too. Basically Google has made a fake Exchange server service on their end to allow people to sync their email, calendar and contacts on their mobile devices.
What you want to do here is delete any GMail accounts you’ve got on your phone, then set up a new account.

Step 1 – Set up a new e-mail account.

Step 2 – Instead of selecting Gmail, select Microsoft Exchange.

Step 3 – Fill out the e-mail address with your entire Gmail address, then put in the password. Give it a good description. Tap Next.

Step 4 – It will “fail” and go to a screen asking for a server. Enter ‘’ here. Tap Next.

Step 5 – Turn on Contacts, Calendar and E-Mail Syncing (Note: Email might not work here, you might need to just turn on contacts and calendar and add gmail as an IMAP account).

If you use Google Apps for your business you will want to refer to this document here on how to set this up. It works very well for iPhone, arguably better than the Apple iCloud service.
If you did everything correctly you will now be able to get access to your contacts (and calendar) everywhere you go. You can enter contacts on your phone and it will sync to the web and vice versa. Make sure you don’t EVER use SIM contacts on your phone, if your phone gets stolen or the SIM card dies they are gone forever. This method insures that once you set a new phone up, your contacts just appear within a few minutes.

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