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From the author of Fixing Problems with Contacts

Fixing Problems with Contacts

You could have any number of problems with contacts. For example, an app that you installed could have duplicated some or all of your contact data. I once had an app bring all my Facebook data into my regular contacts, which I didn’t really need. You might have partial data from the same contact in several different contact records, and you would like to merge them all into a single record. It’s kind of difficult for me to suggest a specific series of fixes, since there can be so many different possible issues. So instead, I’m going to suggest some general troubleshooting techniques that should get you back on the right track.

First and foremost, you don’t want to get caught in a loop where you make changes on one device, and then another device connects to iCloud makes an update and undoes or modifies the change that you intended. So if you have serious problems with your Contacts, I recommend that you designate one and only one device where you work on fixes, and turn Contacts off on your other devices. For example, let’s say you decide that you’re going to work on cleaning up your contact data on your Mac (because it’s so much easier to do it there than on a touchscreen device). In that case, I would go to your iOS devices, go to Settings > iCloud, and turn off Contacts for that device. You’ll get the option to either keep your contacts on your iOS device or delete them (Figure 4). Scary as it sounds, I would delete them, because the master set of data should still be safe on the iCloud servers, and you’ll be making some big changes that you can then synchronize down to your iOS device later, by simply turning Contacts synchronization back on.

Figure 4: If you will be making big changes to contacts, clear the decks by getting rid of the contacts data on your mobile devices. You’ll be able to synchronize it back later.

After you’re done turning off Contacts on the mobile devices, you want to disconnect your Contacts on your Mac where you’ll be fixing contacts from iCloud, but you want to keep a copy of the iCloud contacts on the Mac. Go to System Preferences > iCloud, then deselect the checkbox next to Contacts. When you get the warning, make sure to click Keep Contacts (Figure 5).

Figure 5: You need to keep contacts on your Mac so you can fix them.

Depending on how severe your problems are, you will almost certainly want to go to the iCloud website and delete all your contacts from Apple’s servers, knowing that you’ll be able to replace them with the fixed version from your Mac later, when you turn iCloud synchronization back on. After all, you don’t want iCloud to “helpfully” merge your messed up contacts with your clean contacts when you turn synchronization back on.

Now that you’ve eliminated the possibility of pesky synchronization happening in the background while you’re trying to clean up your data, launch the Contacts app on your Mac. There are a few tools that this app gives you that can be helpful when cleaning up data. The first, Look for Duplicates, should be viewed with extreme suspicion. It’s not very smart in terms of finding true duplicates, and you have no preview of what will happen when you choose the command. A much safer command is to use Merge Selected Cards on a manual basis. This is the command I use when I want to merge, for example, chat addresses in with people’s regular contact records. Other than these commands, however, fixing your contact data is often just a matter of doing a lot of dog work to compare and merge different records and delete excess data.

After you’ve cleaned up your contacts using the Contacts app, save a backup file. Choose Edit > Select All, then choose File > Export > Export vCard, then save the file in your Documents folder. Now you’re ready for the moment of truth: go back to System Preferences > iCloud and select the checkbox next to Contacts. Your Mac will push its contacts up to iCloud. Alternatively, you could go to the iCloud website and import the vCard file you exported earlier.

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