In an effort to clean up the clutter created by Gmail's auto-added contacts feature, Google July 16 has split contacts into two new groups, a move that Read Write Web criticized with good reason.
Google won't say how many people use Gmail, but experts believe it's in the tens of millions of users, including consumers and businesses.
Google hopes to use Gmail as the starting point for its social graph, but it needs to be careful of how it innovates around users' personal data, a fine line the company has been criticized of occasionally crossing.
To wit, the two contact groups are "My Contacts" and "Suggested Contacts." To view these groups, sign in to your Gmail account and click Contacts to browse My Contacts and Suggested Contacts.
My Contacts contains the contacts users explicitly put in their address book via manual entry, import or synch, as well as the addresses of any contacts with whom they've frequently corresponded. Google currently uses five or more times as the threshold for classifying frequently e-mailed contacts.
Suggested Contacts, which according to a brief note in my Gmail account includes "any address to which you've sent an e-mail," is where Gmail puts its auto-created contacts. Suggested Contacts that users e-mail frequently are by default automatically added to My Contacts.
However, those who prefer tighter control of their address books can disable usage-based addition of contacts to My Contacts. See the checkbox in this screenshot.
When users opt out of the Suggested Contacts feature, auto-added e-mail addresses won't move to My Contacts no matter how many times users e-mail them, according to this post from Benjamin Grol, product manager engineer for Google's Contacts Team.
This is where RWW writer and staunch Gmail fan Marshall Kirkpatrick rightly rails Google in this post:
"Why are suggested contacts being added to My Contacts by default? What are suggested contacts if not frequently emailed contacts? Why are so few of my suggested contacts in My Contacts if that's the policy right now and why is that the policy still by default? It appears that Google has issued an obtuse policy around an opt-out feature while even bigger questions remain."
To be fair, Google's Gmail Group is abuzz with kudos for Google on this.
"This is GREAT news!" wrote Thiago Christof. "The new feature turns Gmail more friendly to synchronize with other applications."
Another Gmail user, Ty B, seconded that motion: "Great addition. A perfect solution to a problem we've all probably noticed." He added this caveat:
"My only problem is this... I was admiring how perfect it was working and then all of a sudden noticed it moved about 70 contacts from my "Suggested Contacts" into "My Contacts." Although I had the Auto-add box checked most of them were contacts I only emailed once. Which has brought me back to a cluttered list without a way of getting it back organized. Maybe this is a bug that can be fixed? I sure hope so because the way it was organized earlier today was perfection."
Kudos and bugs aside, Kirkpatrick, who religiously tracks Google's quirky contacts moves, is right to question the license Google takes with Gmail contact management. It's one area where Google shouldn't monkey around because of the sensitivity to privacy surrounding the increasingly rich Gmail app.
I appreciate Google's moves to be proactive, but proceeding with caution is the order of the day when it comes to Gmail and other Google Apps where people's user data are concerned. Google doesn't want Gmail users getting the queasy, something-is rotten-in-the-state-of-Denmark feeling over this.
Is that a user revolt I smell?