7 Key Things to Know About Google Contacts

Although it has some major limitations, Google Contacts is one of the better contact management platforms available today. For existing and prospective Google Contacts users, here are 7 key things you need to know.

*Please note, along with death and taxes, one of life’s guarantees is that Google will change its products underneath your nose with little or no warning. Expect Google Contacts to look and/or behave differently at any time.

1. How Do Other Google Products Use Google Contacts?

Google Contacts’ most visible benefit is that it powers the autocomplete feature in Google’s other products, such as Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar. In Gmail, for instance, as you type in the To, From, or CC lines, names and emails will pop up. You can select from these options instead of typing the full email. Start typing in the To line of an email to see this in action.

If you’re seeing weird things show up in autocomplete, this data is probably coming from somewhere in Google Contacts, so start troubleshooting there. Maybe you connected a third-party app that has created some new contacts? It’s also possible that Google+ is involved (more on this later).

2. Google Groups Versus Google…Groups?

The official “Google Groups” is a message board service that allows you to participate in online discussions, say for a study group. This should not be confused with Google contact groups in the Contact Manager. These contact groups are the primary method for organizing your contacts into meaningful collections, such as “Friends,” “Family,” or “Colleagues.” You can create as many custom contact groups as you want. Go nuts.

Important note: these two types of Google “groups” do not sync with each other. They are completely separate. The good news is that Google+ Circles appear to be encroaching on contact groups, so this confusing branding conflict may be eliminated in the future. Your contact groups might just be your Circles.

3. “My Contacts” Versus “Other Contacts?”

This one causes a fair bit of headache. The short answer is that “My Contacts” is a default contact group that collects any contacts you manually create. “My Contacts” are not created automatically, unless you’ve connected an app to your Google account that does that for you. Any custom contact groups you create will also be organized under “My Contacts,” not separately.

“Other Contacts,” however, is a pseudo-group that is applied to a contact when you send, forward, or reply to an email. The idea seems to be that, since you’re sending an email to the person, you probably want to store their email address for future autocompletion. To turn this feature off, see item number six in our blog post about Cleaning Up Your Google Contacts.

You can easily convert “Other Contacts” to “My Contacts” by selecting them and clicking the “Add to My Contacts” button at the top of the list.

When you sync your Google Contacts with your phone or other device (discussed in a separate blog post), only your “My Contacts” will transfer. This is the most important reason to make sure valuable “Other Contacts” get transferred to “My Contacts.” Think of your “My Contacts” as your real contact list – the one you will use and edit on a regular basis.

*Side note: When I say Other Contacts is a “pseudo-group,” I mean it is a label for any contacts that are not My Contacts. If you export your Google Contacts, the “Other Contacts” designator doesn’t transfer.

4. How Do Google+ Circles Affect Your Google Contacts?

Google has been progressively integrating Google+ into most of its products. It’s a strong move for them, since it quietly expands Google+’s user base and makes its other products more personalized and useful. At present, Google+ Circles show up in your contact manager below (but not as sub-groups of) “My Contacts.” They are totally separate. See below:

Keep in mind that a single person may have multiple Google+ profiles, since those profiles are tied to email addresses rather than unique individuals. As of yet, you can’t merge your own Google+ profiles into one consolidated profile. Consequently, the same person might show up twice or more in your Circles. You can, however, merge duplicate profiles of others in your Contact Manager.

Google+ information will also affect existing contact records. If Google detects that one of your existing contacts also has a Google+ profile (based on a mutual email address), you’ll see the following section at the bottom of the person’s contact record:

You can’t edit this data, since it comes from information that the person has set for themselves. This data also won’t overwrite any details that you’ve entered yourself in the contact record, but it will overwrite any fields that are blank. Take the above screenshot as an example. If I already have “Bartholomew Lorang” in the name field, Google+ won’t overwrite it with “Bart Lorang.” However, if I remove “Bartholomew Lorang” from the name field, the Google+ profile will fill in “Bart Lorang.” This makes sense, since it is how Bart wants to show up in other’s contacts.

Within a contact record, if you want to merge the Google+ profile section visually with the regular information, you can do so by clicking the “More” button:

Find the “Show External Data Inline” option and select it. This will remove the division between your contact data and information from the person’s profile.

5. How Many Google Contacts Can You Store?

Both regular Google Contacts and Google Apps Contacts have a limit of 25,000 contacts.

No sweat. That’s a lot of space!

Wait . . . no, it’s not. We regularly run into people with far more than 25,000 contacts. Given that its in Google’s interests to get this data, we don’t understand the storage limit being set at 25,000.

As a side note, Google only lets you import 3000 contacts at a time. If you’re migrating to Google from another system (say, Outlook) and you want to export your contacts in a .csv file, keep in mind that you’ll have to manually split up the .csv into files of 3000 or less contacts before importing into Google.

6. How Does Google Maps Interact With Google Contacts?

Surprisingly, when you save a location in Google Maps, such as your friend’s house or the best Chinese restaurant in town, that does not create a new contact or add information to an existing contact. You don’t even have an option to manually do so.

However, when you type a name or other information in the search field in Google Maps, it will autocomplete your contacts and their location. So, if you’re on the go and need to use GPS to find a friend or colleague’s location, just start typing their name in the Google Maps mobile app.

7. How Does Google Calendar Interact with Google Contacts?

Google Calendar does autocomplete using your contacts. The most common situation is a meeting invite. Instead of typing in an email every time, you can select from your existing contacts.

Google Calendar, however, does not create Google Contacts from a new email. So, for example, if you invite someone to a meeting who is not in your Google Contacts, this will not create a My Contact or Other Contact like emailing the person does.

What other key information about Google Contacts are we missing?