Low Data Quality in your iPhone Address Book – Why care?

As with all data quality issues, it is important to understand the consequences of a low quality address book. Too often this discussion is skipped, resulting in only half-hearted efforts of cleaning up and quickly slipping back into old habits.

Here are a few scenarios that show the impact of low data quality in your address book – for the sake of this discussion I equate a low quality address book as having lots of duplicate records, i.e. more than one record for a single contact.

Which is the right record to use?

When you want to use the information in your address book, it is difficult to pick “the right” record to use. Consider the following excerpt from (fictional) iPhone contacts:


If you want to send an email to McFly, which address should you use?


There are a couple of contacts, but you can’t see the context of each email address. Some might be from his school (is he still going to school?) or from a college, some seem work-related. Just from looking at this list of potential addresses, there is no way to figure out which one is still valid, let alone which one to use.

(This example is not unusual, as older programs were only able to store one email address per contact.)

While you may have some additional information to help you decide (you know that Marty has already left high school and college, and that he has been “terminated” from his job at Fujitsu Enterprises), this is next to impossible for Siri, the iPhone’s digital assistant. Here’s a look what happens if you ask Siri to “Call McFly”:


If you try narrow it down with “Martin” or “Martin McFly”, you’ll still get to choose between two (not necessarily the right choices) – and then you’re stuck and can’t even get Siri to pick one of them:


Which is the right record to update?

A similar problem arises when you want to update the contact information for Marty. If Marty lets you know he’s got a new job and had to move to a new postal address, will you remember to delete the old address? If you just add the new address as a new record or just update one of the records, after a month or two you will have no way to decide which is the right address. If you have multiple records for Marty and decide to finally write down his birthday after missing it a few times – which record should you update? Just one (at least you’ve committed the info to your digital memory) or all (better safe than sorry)?

There is no good answer if you have more than one record for a person. Things get easy if you have just one record for Marty – only one place to store his birthday, and you’ll see what other addresses you already have for Marty when you enter a new one, so you can delete those that are no longer valid.

What’s the data quality in your address book?

IconSmarterContactsAppstore_BadgeIf you want to find out how many duplicates you have in your address book, please give my iPhone app “SmarterContacts” a try. You can find it on the app store.


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