I had a series of physical, paper address books in pre-computer days. And then everything got pulled into the digital world, including my personal and work contacts. After a few decades and a few years traveling and working in a foreign country, my Contacts system has three parts:

  1. A free account with HighRise by the company 37 Signals. All of my most important personal contact information is in there, and has been for about 10 years. This has worked great for me, and continues to — but unfortunately, the company has stopped offering new accounts. See below for an alternative to HighRise.
  2. GMail retains every email address I’ve ever interacted with; this serves as my repository of email contacts.
  3. I save all current and new phone contacts on my iPhone, and they’re backed up to iCloud.

It would be nice if everything could be in one place, but that would require a ridiculous amount of manual copy-pasting and constant maintenance, so I’ve settled on this three-way approach. With only a little effort, everybody I know and need to contact is listed in one or more of those locations.

GMail’s way of saving contacts works so well that I’ve almost never had to think about it. Typing in a few letters of someone’s name brings up their email address 99% of the time, even when I haven’t been in touch with the person in 5 or 10 years.

And iPhone contacts are easy enough to maintain — I just take 5 seconds to add any new person who I would normally reach by phone.

Since HighRise is no longer accepting new customers, I can cautiously recommend Zoho CRM as an alternative. It’s a full-featured contact management application which has a free version, as long as you don’t need to share it with more than two other users. ‘CRM’ stands for ‘Customer Relationship Management”, but this type of software can work great for simply storing and organizing any type of contacts. I will be using it for my new business contacts, and will plan to blog more about it after I’ve spent some time with it.