I spent a good part of the last week searching for a simple, free, and safe place to store my contacts online. Well, two out of three ain't bad.
The last time I synched my iPhone, iTunes offered to sync my contacts as well. I clicked OK without thinking. Before I knew it, I had lost about half of my phone's contact entries.
Backup? What backup? The entries in my Outlook and Gmail contacts were woefully outdated, compared to the contact information I stored in my iPhone. I had no choice but to reassemble the lost data phone number by phone number, address by address.
That was a good two weeks ago, and I'm still restoring the lost data. I vowed that this wouldn't happen again. What I needed was the online version of an old-fashioned paper address book.
What I didn't need was a full-blown customer relationship management (CRM) application, but those were all I found at first. I tried WebAsyst, Keepm, and BigContacts, but all three were overkill for my meager needs. (None of the three was able to manage the simple trick of importing my Gmail or Outlook contacts with anything approaching accuracy, either.)
I was about to bail on the whole project when I decided to try Flexadex, a Web-based application that gets your contact information online in a blink. The only fly in the ointment is that the service doesn't use Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, so all those addresses and phone numbers are flying over the Net unencrypted.
What really bugs me is that I wouldn't need a separate online address book if either Gmail or Outlook offered the meager contact management features I need. Have you ever tried editing your contacts in Gmail? Whenever I try, clicking the Edit button opens some entry other than the one I'm trying to change. Just getting all the names in "lastname, firstname" format is impossible.
Editing Outlook contacts is more straightforward, but the entries in your Outlook address book don't travel well. Outlook doesn't let you export to a file in the VCard format (.vcf). And none of the three full-size online contact managers I tried was able to import Outlook contacts without skipping or screwing up much of the information.
I followed the steps described in this Worker's Edge post from last August to move my contacts from Outlook to Gmail. Then I used Gmail's contact export function to create a VCard file I could import to Flexadex. As you can imagine, the result was less than perfect.
Fortunately, editing the entries in Flexadex is quick and simple. Just double-click a name to open its record, which consists of two text fields: Title and Contents. You can also send e-mail from the service, or e-mail a record using your own e-mail client.
There's a big, big problem for anyone hoping to use this service for business. Your data isn't encrypted, so don't even think about uploading any information you wouldn't want to share with your competitors. In fact, I'm not comfortable storing the addresses and phone numbers of family and friends on the service until it adds SSL support.
If you're looking for an easy-to-use, free online address book--and you don't mind the lack of encryption--Flexadex might fit the bill.