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How Brewster saved me time digging through old contacts (Updated)

Update: So after a few weeks of testing Brewster I started to notice some bad things. First, contacts started merging or disappearing. Most notably: My dad. Since I'm a "junior" the Brewster support staff said it was likely due to the similarity of our names. Unfortunately his contact worked fine before, and trying to extract his data meant I was left with a fragmented look at his contact info -- and his photo never re-appeared. In fact, a number of photos started disappearing. Brewster staff (before abandoning my support requests entirely) claimed this wasn't possible, but the evidence was right there in front of me. As a result, I must withdraw my support and recommendation for Brewster until the service can address the nagging problems that came from its clumsy attempts to merge your data in unpredictable ways.

As a result, Brewster is the first app to be featured in our new series "When good apps go bad." Sorry folks, this one's just not ready for prime time yet.

Preface

I had Brewster on my iPhone for a while, liked the interface and concept, but eventually abandoned it because it didn't work into my daily routine. The interface used big photos and tiles, plus an algorithm to see who you speak to on a regular basis to surface contacts you haven't spoken to in a while.

A new update adds some powerful integration by setting up a profile on your iPhone, and connecting to CalDav, letting Brewster connect your contacts and feed them to you in one easy app. Finding people across networks has never been easier, nor prettier. Today Brewster nearly saved the day with its powerful contact surfacing tools.

Brewster to the rescue

As many of you may have seen, we had a weird flag for malware pop up on TUAW recently. Just a couple of pages, but since Google only appears to have an avenue to complain for those who have a Google Webmaster account (which we do not at TUAW for the simple fact that our parent company, AOL, doesn't really need one -- we have plenty of our own tools). Since the two pages in question were showing as blacklisted by Google, I decided to ping anyone I'd ever met who happened to work at Google to find a solution. After all, TUAW isn't spewing malware and this is just such a simple fix -- surely someone could just ring up Matt Cutts and let him know of this oversight?

Enter Brewster, which keeps track of contacts across jobs. I tried a couple of searches in my Gmail, but honestly it's a mess. Like MG Siegler, I loathe email. The only thing worse is contacts management, which you would think would be better in 2013. We have warp drive in sight but I'm still exporting three-letter files to move my contacts around? Brewster, after requesting you install a profile (more on this in a moment), ends this problem.

How Brewster saved me time digging through old contacts

By giving Brewster access to my info Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more, plus installing a profile on my device, I was able to quickly and easily find some friends from the old Weblogs days who work at Google. Within minutes I'd sent a few emails off, and queries were being made. In the end I think it was an unsung hero at AOL who got through, but Brewster, for me, made it possible to find those needles in the noodle soup that is my contact management.

TechCrunch has a nice writeup of today's update, but here are a few other nice things I've found about Brewster, and a couple of issues:

Pros

  • Complete search solution. Seriously, this is wonderful. No longer do I need to rummage in 3 services, now I can check all at once, easily.
  • Big photos for calls. I thought my contacts had this covered, but Brewster somewhat magically enhanced the photos I have for the callers I got. It won't help my productivity, but it's nice.
  • Send emails from Brewster. I was able to save a lot of time and email directly within Brewster, while keeping one list of contacts open. No "connecting" various services in weird ways.

Cons

  • While the photos of who you're losing touch with are nice and sometimes useful, I found that the data on the main screen is sometimes incorrect or contradictory. I connect with different people in different ways, and Brewster is just learning how that all ties together. I expect this will be an area for growth and focus for the company as the connections we forge are quite important (ask Google Now and Google Glass).
  • You'll have to install a profile. I know this will scare some people, because the Settings on your iPhone are involved and, to the uninitiated, it will appear as though there may be malware being installed on your iPhone. But you're safe -- the profile is signed by Network Solutions, a leader in online security, and it's so you do have a secure connection.
  • I have to wonder if keeping the profile going will be a monetization avenue for Brewster in the future, but for now the company isn't talking about money (which may also worry some).

About the profile

I spoke to the CEO and founder, Steve Greenwood, who explained a bit more about the profile and the purpose of using CalDav instead of having a user monkey with Settings manually. He explained that Google also does this, and by Brewster serving as your contact server, none of your local contacts are written over. As someone who has had a lot of problems with contacts disappearing, this pleases me.

More importantly, CalDav is secure. Brewster is acting as a go-between, handling both the authentication and the management of different systems in the background. While it may seem complicated, the end result for users is a unified address book and up-to-date contacts with pictures and data you may have not seen before.

Bottom line

Brewster, when fully installed on your iPhone, is the most powerful and amazing contact app I've ever seen. If you dig into it, you can actually learn things about your contacts. I tried searching "google" and found not only current employees, but people whom I knew who were tagged "google" -- and I have no idea how that happened. Welcome to a powerful tool in your productivity belt, especially if you have more contacts than time to manage them.

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