Smarter Gmail contacts

smartrSmartr goes a long way towards tidying up the Google Contacts mess. it make it easier to manage contact information.

The free browser plug-in Inbox for Gmail sits in a pane to the right of your main mail display. When you open a message, Smartr mines your Google Contacts list and social media services to pull out more information about the sender.

You’ll get details of how often you’ve communicated with person, titles of recent messages and a list of common contacts if that’s appropriate. If they are active on Facebook or Twitter – and you know their account details – you’ll see their latest posts or updates.

If the contact has a picture on any of these services, you’ll that also. I find this useful when messages arrive from infrequent contacts, in general I have a better memory for faces than for names or job titles.

Useful search tool

Smartr also works as a way of finding contacts. There’s a search bar where you can type a name – usually the first few letters is enough – then get a list of that person’s email addresses.

As a journalist I find Smartr is particularly useful when a contact has changed jobs – you’ll get a reminder of where you dealt with them before.

The software is a re-incarnation of Xobni for Gmail. When I looked at a beta version of the software two years ago I was lukewarm – today Gmail and Google Contacts integration is better. Most of the time I can happily live with out it, but when I do need extra information about a contact, it is a powerful shortcut.

I use Smartr with the Facebook integration switched off. In practice I don’t find it helpful to know what a contact had for breakfast and it feels like prying seeing what they get up to in their spare time. There’s also an annoying permissions process with the Facebook connection. You may feel different about this.

Smartr is fast, free and takes almost no effort to set up. There’s an Android version as well which beefs up smartphone contacts.

Why now? Smartr isn’t new, so why am I writing about this now? Mainly because I found it especially useful while working on a big project over the past few days.