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Leave your PDA at home

Dec 02, 20023 mins

Putting your contacts database online lets you access it from anywhere

Last time we discussed the new CardScan business-card scanner hardware and accompanying database software. Since then, I’ve downloaded the upgrade (runs faster, jumps higher) and explored the online component called

CardScan does a good job organizing contact information for easy access in or out of the office. Feeding your stack of business cards into the CardScan unit is input, and output can be to your computer or PDA. Use your PC at home, and stick your PDA in your pocket for easy reference while traveling.

Yet some of us prefer to travel without electronic leashes of any kind (to me, it’s not a vacation if you carry anything that beeps or chirps), yet we may still need data access. Hence the value of, which makes accessing your database simple with any Web browser. Databases you can’t trust are worthless, so offers automatic updates. Add a card or change information on your PC, and the online version is updated immediately, and vice versa, assuming you maintain an Internet connection.

If you don’t use CardScan and want to store your contacts online, that’s doable, too. First, pick an online personal information manager or address book application that you trust will be around for a while, such as Yahoo, America Online and MSN. There are smaller companies with excellent options, but try and find ones affiliated with a big company with staying power.

Next, you need to export the records from your current database and import them into the new one – a task more complicated than it sounds. To avoid headaches, before you begin, print (on paper) the layout of the database you use now, including all pages. Print out each page of your online candidates as well. Take a pencil and number each important field you want to keep on your existing system, such as last name and first name and e-mail address. Number the corresponding field on the new system, and note what the new system calls each item.

I was surprised at how the field names vary among databases. Microsoft, for instance, changes major fields like Name between its Address Book, Outlook Express and Outlook. The Address Book and Outlook Express use First, Middle, Last for names, while Outlook uses Full Name. AOL uses First Name and Last Name and Screen Name, which others call Display or Nickname. Match the fields up on the outgoing and incoming database as best you can.

Is this exercise worth all the trouble? Absolutely, if you travel much at all. With an online address book, you can see your entire contact database from anywhere on the Web. Wherever you go, there’s your address book. And unlike a little black book or a PDA, you can’t leave this one at home.