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David Coursey
Why my address book is spamming you

David Coursey
Executive Editor, AnchorDesk
Monday, Dec. 8, 2003
TalkBack!Add your opinion
I'd like to begin today's column with an apology to everyone I know.

That does not include you, dear reader, because we don't know one another in the "address book sense" of the word "know." But if you're one of the people in my Outlook contact list, you've probably received a number of messages from me over the past couple of months seeking to verify your e-mail address and other contact information.

PLEASE UNDERSTAND that these messages were sent in the name of science. And today I am ready to issue the results of my study.

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All those verification e-mails were sent because I was trying out a bunch of address-correction add-ons for Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express: AccuCard, GoodContacts, and the evil Plaxo. (I found out about a fourth, AddressSender, while researching this column, but didn't have time to assess it; if you have any experience with it, post a TalkBack below.)

Each of these sent out address-verification requests to the people in my contact list--way more often, I might add, than I might have liked. And after all that e-mailing, I'm here to report to you, dear readers (and upset recipients), that I've decided to stick with the service I started out with: GoodContacts. The others either didn't work very well or (in the case of Plaxo) were downright scary. But more on that in a moment.

All of these services mean to solve the same problem: How current are the names, addresses, and (especially) phone numbers in your contact list? And what about all those people on your list for whom you have e-mail addresses and names but nothing else? Or what about people who send you e-mail and whose other personal information you'd like to add to your address book?

The attraction of these services is that they promise to have your contacts do the work of updating their contact information and automating the process to boot. This means your assistant doesn't have to call everyone in your address book two or three times a year to update the information. What? You don't have an assistant? Even if you did, these services could turn a mind-numbing task into something more manageable.

I'LL START my comparison of these services with Plaxo, because Plaxo gives me the creeps. There are several reasons for this.

First, every time I get a Plaxo request from someone seeking my information, the message tells me how many Plaxo requests I've received previously; I'm up to 50 Plaxo requests. This means Plaxo is meticulously keeping track of who it's sent mail to. Which makes me feel like Plaxo is stalking me.

Second, how does Plaxo intend to make money? Plaxo is a free service and their Web site says the company, which has raised something north of $10 million in venture capital, plans to sell premium services to business users. Before I give Plaxo my information to store on its computers, I'd like to know what the company's specific plans are to earn a profit, and how my information fits into those plans. So far, there are no answers to those questions on the company's Web site.

Third, Plaxo is founded by a Napster co-founder, Sean Parker. Based on Napster's interesting concept of "fair use" and property ownership, I will never trust an ex-Napster exec with anything, especially not my personal data. Plus, as far as I'm concerned, any money made from Napster is tainted. Yes, I do think businesses should pay attention to ethics, and there should be penalties for those that don't.

Fourth, Plaxo seems to rely on creating a network of Plaxo users, information about which resides on Plaxo's own computers. This is used to update information automatically in the background on the member's machines. This is an interesting feature, but requires a lot more trust than Plaxo has earned from me.

Finally, Plaxo makes a big deal about telling you how trustworthy they are. This reminds me of a used car dealer where I grew up who called himself "Honest Joe" or something. I forget what the guy was indicted for. But I digress.

I don't respond to Plaxo requests, won't join Plaxo, and recommend you don't, either. On the other hand, Plaxo is free, promises to stay free for individuals, and if you don't share my concerns to heck with you. Seriously, Plaxo seems to work fine, it will just never work for me.

AccuCard is a paid service created by the people at Corex as an extension of their line of business card scanners. The idea is that, when you scan a business card into AccuCard, it automatically updates all the other users who also have that person's contact information in their address book. Likewise, if you update your personal information, it is automatically shared with people who know you.

The problem with AccuCard is that quite often it wanted to "update" my address book with information I knew to be wrong. For instance, immediately after I entered contact information from a person who had just handed me a card, AccuCard would try to change the information to something out-of-date.

That was enough to get AccuCard uninstalled, which is sad since I paid $49.95 for the year's subscription.

THIS LEAVES GoodContacts, a $99-a-year service that does a pretty good job of keeping my contact list in shape. Yes, there's a free version that allows you to send a limited number of information requests each year, and it's a very nice option if you have, say, fewer than 300 names in your contact list.

GoodContacts works by sending e-mail to your contacts asking if their information is correct and, if not, asking them to change it. If both sender and recipient are GoodContacts users, a permanent link can be established and information can be sent back and forth without user intervention.

Long term, GoodContacts will need to do something to reduce the number of e-mails that can be sent to a particular recipient. Right now, if someone isn't a GoodContacts user they could potentially receive a zillion verification requests. Fortunately, right now the customer base is small enough that stuffing some poor soul's mailbox with GoodContacts "Keep in Touch" messages isn't a problem--unless, that is, you happen to be in my address book.

GoodContacts allows me to "mine" my incoming e-mail for people I'd like to add to my address book. I do this by selecting the name from a list of incoming mail. The problem is that selecting multiple names at the same time is very difficult, something GoodContacts needs to fix if this feature is to be really useful.

After that selection, GoodContacts sends a standard request for information in reply to the original e-mail. I've found that people contacted this way are generally pretty good about responding.

Not so good are the people in my address book, who may just be suffering from fatigue from receiving four or five requests from me over the past nine months. Still, the response rate remains pretty good (about 70 percent), and GoodContacts is excellent at handling bounced e-mail and dealing with the resultant need to flag or delete contacts whose information is now badly outdated.

GoodContacts has fixed an early bug that popped up when it was used with Outlook 2003. Another "bug" I hope they'll fix: the lack of a Macintosh version. As far as I know, there is no address correction/verification service for Mac users. I'd also like to find a way to send "bulk" addresses, say from a database, and have verifications and corrections made to the database file itself.

Those defects and deficiences aside, I'll stick with GoodContacts--until I have a chance to test something that works better. Let me just apologize for that right now, in advance.

What do you think? How do you keep your address list up-to-date? Have you tried any of these services? TalkBack to me below! 

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