How To Clean Up Your Address Book Contacts

Do you use Apple’s Address Book application (renamed Contacts in OS X 10.8)? Do you have a lot of duplicate records in Address Book? If so, this week’s Tech Tip gives you some guidance on cleaning up your Address Book data. You could use Address Book’s built-in cleanup features or a third party application named Contacts Cleaner. 

For the remainder of this Tech Tip, I’ll only list Address Book (OS X 10.7 and before), but everything applies to Contacts (OS X 10.8 and later). I will point out any subtle differences that do exist between these two versions of the same application.

Before you start to do any cleanup work, it’s essential that you backup your Address Book data. All sorts of problems could occur during the cleanup process, so make sure you backup your Address Book data. I recommend that you set up Apple’s Time Machine to backup all of your Mac’s content to an external hard drive. I also recommend that you open Address Book and go to the File menu, select Export and then Address Book Archive (or Contacts Archive if you use Contacts). Save this file to your Desktop or an external drive. In my experience, one can’t have too many backups of important data like Address Book records.

Now, let’s dig into cleaning up our data.

Address Book’s Built-In Features

I don’t recommend using Address Book’s built-in “Look for Duplicates” feature. Instead, I like to use the “Merge Selected Cards” feature. Both of these commands are listed in the Card menu. If you use “Look for Duplicates”, your contact records will be scanned for records that contain identical first and last names. It then gives you the choice to merge all records or cancel. It doesn’t let you preview the changes and doesn’t let you selectively merge. So, for me, this all-or-nothing option is too heavy-handed. I also find that this option can do more harm than good.

Instead, I regularly use the “Merge Selected Cards” feature. It will merge two or more selected cards. You can select multiple cards by holding down the Command key and clicking on the name of each card. Before I merge cards, I do make sure that the labels for email addresses and phone numbers that I want to keep are different. For example, I might have two cards for George Washington where one card has his home phone number and home mail address, while the other card has his work phone number and work email address. Then I make sure that the labels (Home or Work) are set correctly. Otherwise, data loss can occur. If both of George’s phone numbers are listed as Home, Address Book will merge the two cards and randomly pick one phone number and overwrite the other.

Depending upon the number of duplicates you have, it could take a lot of time to merge all records. In this case, you might consider using Contacts Cleaner ($5 from Apple’s App Store).

Contacts Cleaner

Contacts Cleaner can eliminate duplicate records as well as duplicate data within a given record. I’ve successfully used Contacts Cleaner a number of times over the years, but there are some important caveats. It requires OS X 10.6.5 or later. It can not clean-up contacts if the contact data is stored on an Exchange server or CardDAV server.

[UPDATE April 2017: Contacts Cleaner is not available on the Apple App Store.]

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