Getting away with data – Migrating to Kolab Now – Contacts

By   2015-09-26

During the last episodes I went through the steps of migrating mail from Gmail to Kolab Now. I’m actually describing everything in a different order than it was done: the first thing I attacked and mostly succeed at were contacts.

If you’re here just for the instructions on how to import contacts into Kolab Now and you don’t want more of my stories, skip this section (but seriously, you’re breaking my heart then!).

A not so simple story

It used to work like this: phones were for calling people and computers were for writing e-mail. But now the lines got mostly blurred and we can easily have both things on one device. In the very old days it was for most people the only way to go: I had Mozilla Thunderbird for my mail with contacts and a regular Nokia candy bar phone for calling. The overlap of people in those two systems was minimal, negligible actually. I also had an IM client back then – the widely popular and controversial Gadu-Gadu. Again: there was no need to tinker with data to create one coherent whole, because of the small overlap.

As time passed I gathered more and more contacts, both on the cell phone and in Thunderbird. I think I’ve hit one or two times a limit of about 100 contacts on the internal memory. Today even the simplest, cheapest handsets offer you more (Asha 201 gives you 1000 contacts and it’s an entry level phone). IM actually started dying for me, since gadu-gadu evolved into the bloated monster Poland learned to hate. I experimented with other clients and protocols, but never felt compelled to any single platform, so I discarded them all.

In high school I still used a rather old Nokia and after that I upgraded to an E52. Whoa, that phone had juice! It also had e-mail and I of course tested it, but I couldn’t afford any kind of data plan. Even wifi was problematic, since the building where I used to study had Kryptonite embedded into the construction, so wifi was working poorly as well as the mobile coverage in general. There were times when I got the client to work, but it really wasn’t comfy to type on this thing. A Nokia E72 or a BlackBerry would’ve been then a better bet for the typing junkie, but I, again, couldn’t raise the capital.

When my E52 started acting up I tried to fulfill my dream by buying a C3-00 but it proved to be an ugly zombie with disturbing pics made by the previous owner. Yup, he didn’t even delete the address book. Quite soon the phone started dropping connections and I ended up buying a LG L9 smart-phone, thus ending an era.

Hungry, hungry smarthpones

Once you get a proper smartphone you suddenly discover that e-mail addresses and phone numbers work well in tandem and one great way to make this work is to use an online address-book like the one in Kolab Now. That way the device becomes less significant and any unfortunate accident with a concrete floor involved stops being the end of your precious data store.

Lets again do this on a real life example. When moving to Kolab Now I had various places holding contacts I’ve been gathering for almost 15 years. I had to locate all of them, remove the dust and upload them to Kolab.

It’s a bit of a spiritual journey, a mantra of sorts.

Wow, I’ve been places. Some of them I’m not proud of, but that’s mostly the past now.

What are contacts anyway?

I’m glad you asked (you did ask, right?)! As far as contemporary PIM/groupware solutions go, contacts are stored/exchanged using a very well defined and easy to understand format called vCard. Here is a simple example courtesy of always dependable Aunt Wikipedia:

FN:Forrest Gump
ORG:Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
TITLE:Shrimp Man
ADR;TYPE=work;LABEL="100 Waters Edge\nBaytown, LA 30314\nUnited States of A
 merica":;;100 Waters Edge;Baytown;LA;30314;United States of America
ADR;TYPE=home;LABEL="42 Plantation St.\nBaytown, LA 30314\nUnited States of
 America":;;42 Plantation St.;Baytown;LA;30314;United States of America

Even without much knowledge it’s not hard to decode what’s going on.

  • There is a clear beginning and end marked by BEGIN:VCARD and END:VCARD;
  • N: Stands for Name;
  • FN: Formatted name;
  • ORG: Organisation;
  • Those \n are new line delimiters: lots of programs will interpret the \n as “break the line here and throw the rest in a new line”

If exchanging a couple of hundreds of those little cards saved as *.vcf files gets in your way, you can always use a single file: that’s why you have very clear beginning and ending parts in the specification. Any decent contact management program will read those business cards one by one from the file and generate separate entries. Much more handy than importing tons of little files at a time. And how big those files get? Just in case you’re worried: there really tiny. I produced a *.vcf file with 334 contacts that weighted 156,2KiB.

As you can see, this standard allows you to pass lots of useful (sometimes mission critical) data even on the poor mans Internet connection. Actually when you send a business card in most PIM programs (Kontact, Outlook) a tiny *.vcf is exactly what will get passed along.

Cleanup and export – Nokia E52 and C3-00

In my opinion the best way is to use the tools that came with the device instead of using some all the way around method to get to the data. This was actually the sole reason I had Windows XP installed even after its EOL in April 2014. I could’ve used Windows 7 but I didn’t want to take the risk it may crash on the new OS, the Nokia Suite was quite old. There was the Ovi Suite, but I felt Nokia messed this one up, so I used the older software.

This was a great occasion to remove old contacts and text messages (because it’s a ton faster to select things with the cursor on a regular screen compared to a tiny one on a phone). Another thing I did was to merge contacts: ex. “Dude Home” and “Dude mobile” would get combined into “Dude” with the two numbers assigned to him. I created a backup of everything and then exported all the contacts into one *.vcf file.

With phone numbers a manual cleanup is needed (as opposed to email contacts that get deduped by Kolab). The less data you have to export, the less you have to import and manage.

Note: When exporting from the Nokia Suite make sure the format is *.vcf and not *.vmg. That’s a Nokia invention and it won’t work; lets stick to the standards, OK?

I also found address-books from Thunderbird and Kontact (from the old times, when I experimented with it).

Cleanup and export – Gmail contacts

As the support pages from Kolab Now suggest, groups are not preserved when exporting data from Gmail, so if you have lots of groups it’s better to export the contacts in batches. For me this was not the case, so I just exported the contacts.

TIP: When exporting, give the address-books some meaningful names like: bigBoxFamily, bigBoxWork, smallBoxFriends, otherBoxShops etc. so you won’t get confused later on;

TIP: Keep books to be imported in one folder and move them to another when you’re done with them. I recommend keeping them around for awhile but you need to know which book still needs to be acted upon.

Importing into Kolab

The import process is really straightforward: just go to Address book > Upload > Select file and confirm.

Good news: duplicates will get eradicated upon import, so you don’t need to worry about them. You need to worry about near-duplicates and I had some of those (one person having two separate contacts with two separate email addresses). Also: the key for locating duplicates is the email address, so if you import phone only contacts they won’t get de-duplicated. Overall I’m still happy, since most of my data was from mail clients, so that’s where most of the garbage was residing.

Once all business cards got imported I had about 1600 of them (if I recall correctly). Now I have a little above 200 in active use and maybe 100+ to think over and delete or merge into the main address book. I removed people who I didn’t even remember who they were. And I remembered many other and knew I would never ever be going to talk to them again. There were also some corrupted contacts, near-duplicates and simply put garbage. I had some contacts, that displayed names on the contact list, but didn’t in the business card itself. This was a great occasion to remove all that mess.

If I ever have to import another found orphaned address-book, I’ll create a separate book for it and upload it there. The duplicates will get removed automatically and I’ll manually check the rest. I’ve already done this once, when I discovered a payload of data hidden under a rock and decided to merge it.

Tips for post import tasks & some observations

It’s important to keep track of your progress, so you can setup a book for cleaned up contacts, ex. Contacts_2 and a book for hard, borderline cases ex. reviewLater. I used this occasion to setup a subscriptions book, so I could place all those newsletter bots in one place (the good bots, like my favorite hardware re-seller).

TIP: Whenever you create a business card, remember to select the organization or make a note. That way in 3 years you won’t be scratching your head and asking yourself “WHO is this dude!?”

WARNING: Using some characters can be risky: something like ..:: NAME ::.. may not parse properly, worst case scenario, upon import your contact may get corrupt or get refused by the server altogether. There was one shop I had in my contacts imported from Thunderbird and Kolab started choking on this one business card. The record got corrupt, was empty etc.

Heads-up!: You’re using GMail and someone wrote you a response to an ad you placed? Bought something off an auction and had to talk the details over mail? Was it two years ago? Good! That means that contact still pollutes your book. Happy guessing who that person was! You should thank Google for automatically harvesting your correspondents as new contacts. You’ll thank Kolab for not doing this.

Also, people *really* should learn how to set their identities in their mail clients. Be honest with yourself: what do you do, when you see contact names like You hit delete. Contacts like this are garbage. If you don’t wish to become someone else’ garbage, learn how to setup your mail client properly.

I am again urging you to take your time and use the business cards to their fullest potential. Those little fellas can hold lots of crucial data so resist the horrible reflex to create a new one every time you’re given a new number by the same person (like people in the 90” did with Nokia’s and some still do to this day). I’m talking about this:

  • Dude
  • Dude2
  • Dude home
  • Dude home2
  • Dude new
  • Dude new 2
  • Dude new new
  • Dude new 3 new carrier
  • Dudes grandma
  • Pizza place next to Dudes grandmas home new2


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