Here's Why Gmail Is Lousy at Managing Contacts

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 12 2014 9:42 AM

Here's Why Gmail Is Lousy at Managing Contacts

contacts
The contacts section of Gmail works, but isn't thoughtfully designed like the rest of Gmail.

Photo from Gmail.

Gmail devotees can be almost obsessive in their love of the service's organizational features. Labels, inbox tabs, stars, filters, and more allow users to wrangle the demon email flow, and it's clear that the Gmail team has put a lot of thought into all of these features. But one feature doesn't get any love: the contacts manager.

Gmail tries to automate the flow of contacts into your manager by adding addresses you reply, reply-all, or forward to. But you can also input contacts manually, and you probably brought a list with you from another service and did a big import. This means that the automated add can often end up creating duplicate contacts if someone you email with makes a small change to their account like modifying the way their name is displayed. And as Wired points out, the "most contacted" section is also flawed because it's based on the amount of emails you've sent to someone, not when you last contacted them, so exes could show up for years.

Advertisement

Yesterday, a Twitter conversation (not a Google Plus interaction) shed light on why contacts is the black sheep service of the Gmail family. Ryan Sarver, a partner at the venture vapital firm Redpoint Ventures, tweeted a question about why contacts is so bad. And former Google design lead Kevin Fox actually replied and put the blame on himself.

It makes sense. Out of all the things to get right in Gmail, contacts was probably the least important. And the Gmail team has made some efforts to improve the situation. They added some features in 2008 and did a redesign in 2010. But the list of changes for the 2010 revamp seems more like a list of basic necessities than added improvements. They didn't have a sort by last name filter until 2010? That update also included keyboard shortcuts like those in Gmail proper, better editing options, autosaving, and labels.

There are some third-party services that interface with Gmail like FullContact and Evercontact and expand Gmail's contact functionality to include things like notes on contacts and added information from people's email signatures.* But none of these features are baked in yet, and adding them could significantly improve the user experience. If it makes you feel any better, Kevin Fox is sad about the situation, too.

*Correction, Feb. 12, 2014: This post originally stated that FullContact and Evercontact were add-ons to Gmail, but they are actually standalone products that interface with Gmail.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Launching a Serious Run at Apple and Samsung

Television

Slim Pickings at the Network TV Bazaar

Three talented actresses in three terrible shows.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?