Gist, Plaxo and Xobni all aim to cut through the social media cloud and pull together a comprehensive digital address book.
Although each tool has its pluses, none has a magic formula making it the must-have contact manager organiser.
Gist filters your in-boxes putting incoming messages in a single place. Its strong point is sorting things in order of importance. It works with email, Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. Gist doesn’t always get this right, but it’s an improvement on the usual overloaded in-box.
Gist is free at the time of writing.
Plaxo does a reasonable job of syncing to contact management applications. It can also pull in some of your social networking messages.
Plaxo is free, but you need to buy the premium service to sync with Microsoft Outlook and mobile phones. My Plaxo account is full of duplicate entries – annoyingly you can only merge these if you pay for the premium version.
Xobni looks good, but it’s an Outlook add-on and doesn’t replace the contact manager. It provides better index cards and links entries so you can quickly find a contact’s colleagues.
Google’s contact management tool – part of Gmail – is second-rate. It provides little information and adds no value.
Of the three tools looked at here, I recommend Gist as a way to cut through the noise. But for now, Outlook remains the smartest contact manager.
Three months ago I tested Gmail in depth. I’ve been using for ages, but wanted to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
My plan was to spend a week running all incoming email through Gmail on my Windows desktop, laptop and hand-held computers. I previously used Microsoft Outlook.
I wanted to move all my email accounts on all my systems through a single application as a way of simplifying things.
In practice it worked well. Routing my Gmail, POP3, Google Apps and Yahoo accounts through one in-box made sense.
Seeing the same messages through the same interface across my three systems made sense. The experiment was so successful I stayed with it for three months.
Windows integrates Outlook search
There is a problem with Gmail: integrated search. It is easy to search Gmail messages. Email search is faster and more efficient than Outlook search tools.
I missed not being able to search Word and OneNote documents, text, HTML and email documents from a single, central location. But I figured this was only a minor irritation.
Then Windows 7 came along, with improved integrated search. It is noticeably better than Vista search and it works better with Outlook 2007. So much better, that I’ve reinstated Outlook 2007 as my main mail hub. I can use it on my desktop and laptop, but not on my Palm hand-held.
This hardly matters, the Palm is not the best device for writing email – though it is good for reading emails. And anyway, I suspect my trusty old Palm TX is not long for this world.
Update: I forgot the other bonus. Outlook 2007 integrates nicely with OneNote while it is a pain moving messages from Gmail to the application.
Getting a Gmail address was easy as I already had a number of existing accounts. I’ve decided to forward everything from everywhere to a single Gmail account and gradually stop using old email addresses.
If you don’t already have a Gmail account, just hop over to gmail.com and sign up – you’re late to the party so you won’t great choice of available names. This doesn’t matter as nobody has to see your Gmail address.
2: Domain name
Again this was straightforward, I chose a .co.nz name because New Zealand is a small country with an uncrowded domain name register which made it easy to get the domain name I wanted. It cost NZ$40 to own billbennett.co.nz, but New Zealand names are renewed annually which is a pain.
My existing web host was good enough. There’s a minor technical problem which causes problems elsewhere, but the one I use isn’t expensive and the company is easy to deal with.
I pay NZ$130 a year for 100MB of storage and plenty of bandwidth. You don’t need much of either to handle an email account, so opt for the smallest possible hosting plan unless you aim to use the service for something else.
4: Set-up mail account
My host uses a program called Cpanel. It allows me to manage the site through a web browser. I opened Cpanel and clicked on the Mail icon. A list displayed with a number of options, I chose Add/ Remove/ Manage Accounts. From here I added the email account firstname.lastname@example.org.
You need to set up a password and a quota at this point – which is an amount of storage space to set aside for email. I’m not planning to keep email on the server, but during the testing stage I set aside 2MB of storage. This was a good move, because I hit a minor snag.
I struggled finding out how to redirect email traffic from my host using Cpanel. That’s because I used the Email Domain Forwarding option. While this looks like the right tool – it isn’t.
I then tried, incorrectly, setting up forwarding from Cpanel’s built-in Horde web mail program. The correct tool to use at this point is cryptically listed in the Cpanel/Mail menu as Forwarders.
Here you need to click on Add Forwarder and then enter the new email address followed by the Gmail account where you plan to receive your mail.
6: Tell Gmail about your new account
I did this by logging on to Gmail, clicking the Settings link at the top right of the window and then on the Accounts tab. Here I added the new address, verified it, then made it the default.
It’s a good idea to test your new email address at this point. When I did this I had some problems with the redirecting and found my emails sitting in the Horde web mail inbox on the server at my host.
Now, my next job is to make sure the new address appears everywhere online. This will take some time to fix. I made a good start by Googling my old addresses, but there are hundreds of instances so it’s not going to happen overnight.
It is not the best first impression when mail turns up in the afternoon starting with the words: “good morning”.
On the upside “good morning” means the sender has, at least, thought about manners. They just haven’t thought enough.
On that level Good morning is better than “Oi you!” or worse.
And yes, it’s a more original start than the standard “Hi Bill”. Or “Dear Mr Bennett”. Some variation is welcome.
But not too often.
The problem is “good morning” mails often don’t arrive in the morning. Not even when the writer clicks their send button mail in the morning.
Australian mail forgets time zones
A lot of mail in New Zealand comes from Australia which is usually two or more hours behind New Zealand. When the Bruces and Shelias in Sydney are still boiling billy cans for the day’s first brew, we are ready for lunch.
Public relations people send a lot of the offending messages.
When an Aussie PR sends a “good morning” that arrives late afternoon, it says they only care about journalists in their own country. Or it says the sender simply hasn’t thought about the recipient at all.
The chances are that the “good morning” message is just a bulk press release sent out to dozens of people in Australia and New Zealand.
It says you don’t care
The subtle, unvoiced subtext of such a message is “we’re happy to take money off of our clients to service New Zealand media, but can’t make an effort to do the best job.”
The key point is that senders have no control over when readers see their mail. This make it presumptuous to start a message that way even when you’re in the same time zone as the reader.
You’ll still be polite or friendly if you start the mail with hi or hello followed by the person’s name.