Add your Facebook friends to Outlook and Gmail--sort of

The Export Friends to CSV Facebook application creates a .csv file you can import to your Gmail and Outlook contacts, but the data certainly doesn't travel well.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

We can all be thankful Facebook doesn't let you export your friends' e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. The export prohibition doesn't extend to other information about your friends, however. A new free service puts this data in a .csv file you can import to your Outlook and Gmail contacts. Unfortunately, the results leave much to be desired.

Export Friends to .csv wasn't developed by Facebook, but rather by Jørn Arild Andenæs. You can choose to export up to 11 different categories of information about your friends, including Facebook ID, name (full, first, and last), profile and picture URL, location, hometown, and "About me."

The problem? The .csv file combines several categories of exported information in a single cell and separates the information with semicolons. You have to do a lot of cleanup before the .csv file is anywhere near importable.

Add Facebook birthdays to Outlook, Gmail? Nope
There's probably a good reason why someone would want to export all 11 categories of information about their Facebook friends, but I can't think of it. The resulting .csv file is a mish-mash of codes, names, places, semi-random text, and disjointed dates and URLs. I thought I might have more success importing only the full names and birthdays of my Facebook friends. No dice.

I managed to add the names of my Facebook friends to my Gmail contacts, but only the names ended up in the right place. I also had to clean up the .csv file beforehand and the new contact entries afterward. I give Gmail bonus points for its contact-merge feature and for capturing the birthdays in custom fields; Outlook either dumped all the .csv file's data in the Name field or ignored it entirely.

When I selected only Full name and Birthday among Export Friends' 11 data-export options, the resulting .csv file was a mess. The names and the month and date of the birthdays were in the same cells, and the birth years were in the second of the spreadsheet's two columns.

Since some people haven't entered a birth year in Facebook, many of the cells in the second row of the exported file were blank. Neither Gmail nor Outlook were able to import the dates into their respective birthday fields, though Gmail recognized the headers and placed their data in custom fields.

Before importing the names, I had to get rid of the semicolons the Export Friends app places after each entry it imports. I did so by choosing Edit > Replace, entering ; in the Find what field, typing a space in the Replace with field, and clicking Replace All.

I also had to export the Full name and Birthday fields separately and combine the two .csv files into one. It's almost as easy to copy the names in your browser, paste them as plain text into either a word processor or a spreadsheet, and clean up that file.

The .csv file must be formatted as a table with headers that describe the content of each row, as explained on the Gmail Help site. Both Gmail and Outlook recognized the Name header, but neither transferred the Facebook birthdays to their own equivalent fields.

Add your Facebook friends to Gmail contacts
To import the Facebook .csv file to your Gmail contact list, open the Gmail Contacts page and click Import in the top-right corner. Click Browse, navigate to and select the Export Friends .csv file, check "Also add these imported contacts to," choose New group, and click Import. In the window that pops up, give the new group a name and press Enter. After the file imports, Gmail will indicate the number of contacts it found.

Gmail Contacts Import
Gmail lists the number of contacts it imported from the .csv file created by the Export Friends app. Gmail

The names convert well enough, but anything else you import from the .csv file is placed in custom fields in the contact record named after the .csv file's headers. After you add your Facebook friends to your Gmail contacts, you'll likely have duplicate entries, but Gmail lets you merge two or more similar entries by selecting them and clicking Merge these x contacts.

Merging dozens of duplicate contacts two or three at a time is tedious, but it's faster than entering the birthdays manually, and likely less prone to error. If you're unhappy with the result of the contact import, select the group you just created in the left pane of the Gmail Contacts window, click All next to Select in the middle pane, and choose Delete contacts. Then click Delete group.

Outlook .csv import captures only the names of Facebook friends
Try as I might, I wasn't able to format the .csv file generated by Export Friends so that Outlook could make sense of it. After several attempts, only the names of the friends appeared in the contacts imported from the file. No matter which of the 11 fields I chose to export, Outlook placed all the information in the new contact's Name field.

Outlook also lacks anything comparable to Gmail's contact-merge feature. Fortunately, you can delete the contacts you imported from the file by sorting the contacts by the date they were modified.

If the Modified column doesn't appear in the Contacts window, right-click anywhere on the top row, select Field Chooser > Frequently used fields, scroll to Modified, and drag it to a convenient spot on the top row. Click Modified to move the contacts you just created to the top (or bottom) of the list. Shift-select the contacts and press Ctrl-X to delete them.

I'm confident that it will soon be much easier to export data from Facebook into Outlook, Gmail, and other contact managers. One of these days, I'm going to add the birthdays of my Facebook friends to my Google Calendar and Outlook calendar — without entering the dates manually. I just hope I manage the trick before I miss too many birthdays.