Help me create order from contact chaos
April 30, 2009 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How are journalists and related professionals managing their contact lists these days? Dead tree contact books or digital wizardry, I want to know about both.

After a busy short-term contract, I have three months of emails and scribbled notes comprising hundreds of beat-specific contacts. Clearly, I should have come up with a coherent way of dealing with these contacts, well, three months ago. Nevertheless, I now have a few free days to devote to creating a totally bitching contact management system.

Is the battered dead-trees contacts book of yore still the way to go? If so, what should go in the book and how should I organise it? I like the idea of a physical book, but I'm not keen on the mess that's created when contacts need to be amended, nor on the disruption of starting over when I finally run out of pages.

Alternatively, is there a standalone program that would let me carry my contacts with me on a USB thumbdrive? I like the idea of a searchable database with keywords and tags, but I can't install new software on the computers at work and I don't want to risk adding confidential sources to a web-based service.

How do you manage your contacts list?
posted by embrangled to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Most people rely on Microsoft Outlook. Whether or not that's mated to Exchange Server depends on the size of the organization.
posted by randomstriker at 11:24 PM on April 30, 2009

Response by poster: I should probably have mentioned - MS Outlook is the one option I am desperately trying to avoid. In once sense I've been using it all along by simply going back through old emails to find contacts, but the instability of Outlook and the Exchange server at my workplace makes me reluctant to use the Outlook address book as my primary contact management system. I'd also like something that's portable in case I change jobs or need to access it from home.
posted by embrangled at 12:04 AM on May 1, 2009

Response by poster: once one
posted by embrangled at 12:07 AM on May 1, 2009

I simply use the NokiaN95 cellphone with the 8Giga memory option. You organize the contacts on your PC, on their Nokia Nseries PC suite. For each contact you can enter different options -- not only the basic details (name, phone numbers, address and e-mail). You can tailor each contact with different "labels" you'd fill (for example, names of children and their birthday dates, your own personal notes on the contact, preferred restaurant of the contact etc). You can also synchronize your outlook calendar to match the phone's database, although that required my IT department's help, it's a bit complicated. But the contacts database was very simple to manage.
posted by dov at 12:33 AM on May 1, 2009 is a good option.
posted by COD at 5:19 AM on May 1, 2009

I fail at links. Lets try that again.
posted by COD at 5:20 AM on May 1, 2009

My journalist gf loves Highrise too.
posted by avex at 5:39 AM on May 1, 2009

Increasingly, for me, it's LinkedIn. Ostensibly, everybody keeps their contact info up to date, so as long as I have web access, I have perfect contact info for everybody I deal with. (And the forums have been awesome for research and brainstorming).
posted by jbickers at 5:47 AM on May 1, 2009

Through bitter experience of data loss, I use a series of notebooks. Plus I keep business cards.
posted by WPW at 12:14 PM on May 1, 2009

Instead of a paper address book, or a USB drive, why not a Palm PDA? The entry level model is not very expensive, & would be easy to carry. Your contact information can be read anywhere without a computer & would be searchable. You can add notes to each contact. You can put a password on the device for security if needed. You would have a copies of your information both on the PDA & backed up on your computer. You can also print out the information on paper, if you like.

You can download the desktop software before buying one, & see how you like it.

I am very fond of my PDA, which is an older model now.
posted by easilyamused at 1:05 PM on May 1, 2009

I have a battered contacts book and file people under their second name or their organisation, whichever seems most important. The guy next to me has a big spreadsheet. Unfortunately both methods have the same weakness - the user. If you get through a lot of contacts/numbers in a day and don't have time to put all your numbers in your book/spreadsheet they're limited use, which is what often happens to me.

As a fallback, a lot of the time when I'm looking for an old number I do just end up searching cuts (online) for the date of the article I first wrote with that person, then using the date to find the number in my original notebook (Always, always note the start and end dates on the front of your notebooks!). It sounds laborious but as long as you keep your books in order it works OK for people you never thought you'd have to speak to again, or when you just didn't have time to put them all in your contacts book.

Generally I'm very happy with the contacts book. When you spend the whole day staring at the computer screen, it's kind of nice to pull your dog-eared old friend off the shelf and flick through. I also have old contacts books from previous jobs, and looking through them, with all my annotations, is like a walk down memory lane in a way that a digital records wouldn't be.
posted by penguin pie at 2:31 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

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