Mark Atwood (fallenpegasus) wrote,
Mark Atwood

Cleaning up sources of Address Book sync fail

Over the past couple of years, I've gotten too promiscuous with my address book, and with address book sync services.
And as a result, I never could quite trust my address book.

I have have entries of very close friends just vanish. Usually at the worst possible time.

I sometimes suddenly have duplicate entries.

Sometimes entries would remain, but various fields (like, say, their phone number), just vanish.

Sometimes entries would remain, but attributes of the entry would change, like a mobile phone number would become an "other" phone number.

Entries that are businesses would become people, and something would try to reparse the business name into first/middle/last names.

Names and entries that have non-ASCII characters would get mangled, in all sorts of un amusing ways.

People with surnames that have spaces in them would get mangled.

Postal addresses get mangled, especially non-US addresses.

Postal addresses will get duplicated. I have some entries that have their home address in them 5 times, sometimes identical, sometimes somewhat mangled.

Old entries will re-appear after I try to delete, correct, or consolidate them.

Old attributes of entries will re-appear after I try to delete, correct, or consolidate them.

I have sometimes, while literally have an entry open in edit mode and while adding, removing, or changing attributes, have my changes undone, duplicated, or mangled right before my eyes.

There are too many data-loss bugs in the the MacOS sync and "truth database" API.

I have entirely too much stuff futzing with that API.

There are too many bugs in the various online address book web services.

Google Talk will forget someone from my IM roster, or forget that they have an icon. Adium would pick up the roster change, and delete the IM contact information or the photograph from that person's entry.

When I add someone on some IM service via Adium, Adium will try to find their address book entry and add the IM contact info, which is neat. But more often than not, it would say the IM type was "AIM", no matter what it really was, and if I try to fix it, Adium will then delete them from the IM roster.

I used to have the Plaxo Mac sync agent installed, and how bad that was was unspeakable. I could never trust my address book to stick around in any sane form, and several times had to restore it from a timemachine snapshot. I finally removed it, which is too bad, I like the Plaxo concept and like working with Joseph Smarr.

I use Spanning Sync to keep Google Contacts in sync. And it's not really great, but it's better than the crawling abomination that is the google contacts sync that Apple built into MacOS.

Google Contacts will sometimes transiently forget an entry or forget attributes of an entry. Spanning Sync will notice the "delete", and then delete the data from my address book.

Google Contacts, for whatever reason, uses the first email address it saw for someone as the primary key for the record. If I try to update that attribute in my address book, I can be pretty much be guaranteed that contact is about to get deleted, duplicated, or mangled. Sometimes a combination of all 3, changing over time.

Google Contacts doesn't keep people's names in "given name, other names, surname" fields, but as just one single text attribute, causing all sync software to try to huistically parse name parts out, and thus mangling them.

I discovered today that I had sometime in the past enabled MacOS sync to Yahoo Contacts. I went and looked at my Yahoo Contacts, and it was fully of duplicated entries (some people were in it 5 times), and full of old entries that I was uninterested in keeping around. (Such as the entire MySQL employee address book of 18 months ago.)

So what I've done is

I turned off Yahoo contacts syncing.

I downloaded a vCard file of my Yahoo Contacts database, and then deleted it from Yahoo. This probably deleted everyone from my Yahoo Messanger IM roster. So be it.

I deleted from Plaxo every entry that wasn't a Plaxo contact. I fear that Plaxo may still be trying to do service to service syncing with Google via either the Google Contacts API, or via PoCo. If it looks like there is still mangling from that direction, I may just completely empty out my Plaxo account.

I deleted from LinkedIn every entry that wasn't a publicly visible LinkedIn link.

I can't really turn off Google Contacts, because that's the address book that my Android phone uses. I'm not sure yet how to cut back on the problems from that direction, other than just complain about them, and hope that the teams at Google Talk and Google Contacts is fixing bugs. (I hope that Smarr's move to Google will cause improvement there.)

In a future post, I will give a list of what I think anyone who wants to any sort of online address book syncing should do, as a set of best practices. Nobody does them, but I can only hope.

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