Sharing contacts without Exchange?

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sharingUntil now, I have been a solo practitioner, but my firm is growing. Consequently, I need a way to share contacts between myself and my law clerk. Google Apps—what I use now—does not have an easy way to this level of sharing.

Here is what I want:

  • Free
  • Cross-platform (Windows, OS X, and Linux)
  • Syncs with Google Apps or Thunderbird or Outlook and Apple’s address book

One possibility is simply giving my law clerk access to my contacts through Plaxo, but that means moving away from Google Apps. I am getting close to just switching to a hosted Exchange server, but I would prefer to stick with free options, if possible.

Any ideas?

(photo: clappstar)

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  • Will Geer

    Not free, but cheap: http://www.setupmadeeasy.com/shared-contacts.php $19.99 one-time fee using the Google API. No syncing though.

    http://www.zindus.com = Google and Thunderbird contact sync, but no sharing.

    Bigcontacts.com is does everything but the free part, which is kind of a big deal. To my knowledge, an Exchange server is probably your best bet.

  • Google Apps does have a Contact Manager application that you can use to store your contacts and sort them into groups. When you install that App in your domain dashboard, it will make those contacts available to everybody in your domain on Google Apps and in their Gmail, AFAIK.
    http://blogs.zdnet.com/Google/?p=1209

    There’s apparently a feature request for more granular permissions on contacts sharing, but it doesn’t sound like you’d need that.

  • @Andy: From that link, it looks like the only way to use them is through the API. I am not a programmer, so that is useless to me.

  • Jennifer

    I’m interested in hearing ideas. I have been trying to figure out the best way to utilize a new law clerk who will be working remotely. I need to find a way to efficiently share information and delegate tasks without spending too much time doing so.

  • For members of the forum, I started a thread to share ideas on sharing information, including contacts: http://forum.lawyerist.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=22

  • We too are expanding and want to use a remote law clerk. Google apps & calendar as well as Dropbox brings together our billing (Google spreadsheet), calendar, and files across the board. But, we have yet to find an integrated solution for bringing client contact information across the board. Using Google’s spreadsheet for contact info and conflict checks has proven very frustrating.

  • Grant

    Have you tried plaxo?
    I believe it can do what you are hoping for.

  • @Grant: Plaxo syncs contacts, but does not share them. In order to share with my law clerk’s computer, I would have to give him my username and password or create a dummy account for the firm. Possible, but clumsy.

  • Julie Kiernan

    Dropbox might be easiest cross platform method. You could keep a contact list there, or export contact data from case management software and save in Dropbox.

    I don’t use it, but could Rackspace do this? Apple just said iPhone 3.0 will support Exchange 2007. VPN into firm contact/case management server or Mobileme works well with iPhones. On Macs you could subscribe to the Address book.

  • @Julie: I could definitely go with hosted Exchange, and RackSpace is one of a few dozen providers. But I don’t want to if I can stick with Google Apps, which are superior (IMO) in all ways but this.

    As for using Dropbox, that would work for syncing a spreadsheet. So would Google Docs. But using a spreadsheet would be clunky.

    Case management software would mean that everyone would have to be on the same OS, since none I am aware of is cross-platform. (Well, Clio and Rocket Matter are web-based, and therefore platform agnostic, but they are also way more expensive than hosted Exchange.)

  • Scott

    Two ways to utilize the Google Apps contact sharing API that don’t require you to be a programmer:
    http://www.ltech.com/google-apps/products/power-panel
    http://www.setupmadeeasy.com/shared-contacts.php

  • Isaac Terronez

    Here a couple other options I’m exploring:

    XC Connect: http://www.xcnetwork.com

    Horde w/Turba: http://www.horde.org/turba/

    The problem with Horde for me is the learning curve of deployment and administration.

    In contrast, XC Connect looks fairly plug-n-play. You may want to look at the Full Install if you want to keep the contact info inside the network. If that doesn’t bother you, they have a hosted solution you can try for a few days. The bummer for your situation is they have requirement of purchasing a minimum of 5 client licenses.

  • Abel Lineberger

    If you have purchased Google Apps Premier ($50/user/mo) you or your assistant can edit group contacts individually so long as you have administrator access – and have set contacts to be shared among all users of the domain. First go to the Contacts link in the upper left corner of the screen. On the contacts screen, you should see a list below “My Contacts” which is named after your company. Any contacts in this group are available to all users on the domain.

  • I agree with your thoughts about cloud computing. I have to have redundancy (all data has to be exported somewhere else daily) in my solution, so I passed on Clio and Rocket Matters, though I think they show great promise.

    Re Google Apps Premier, I think it is $50/user/year, not per month. See http://www.google.com/apps/intl/en/business/details.html for Google Apps pricing.

    Have you tried Zimbra? I have been test-driving it. I love the interface. Very flat learning curve. My only complaint is that although I can share contacts with my assistant, he can’t see my tags, so he sees my entire contact list but can’t sort them by tag. So if I say to him find me a state marshal in X County, he can’t look at just the subset of Marshals. I’ve tried to devise work arounds, but without success. Zimbra synchs to Outlook quite well, automatically throughout the day. Not sure whether it also synchs to the Apple address book. Helpful help desk, too.

    Sam, I love this blog and really admire how much energy you put into it.

    David

  • Sam Glover

    Thanks, David!

    I have had my eye on Zimbra for a long time, and I am considering setting up a Zimbra server at the office, or going with a hosted Zimbra service. Zimbra is pretty awesome, and it seems even more robust than Google Apps, at this point. I didn’t realize it also supports Blackberrys and iPhones, but that makes it pretty attractive.

    Also, I love how easy it is to share everything with co-workers. Much more collaborative than Google Apps.

  • Sam Glover

    Okay, the more I look at Zimbra, the more impressed I am all over again. Must. Resist. Urge. To. Switch.

  • Regarding Zimbra, I actually succeeded at devising a workaround to the sharing tags issue. So, instead of assigning one or more tags to each contact, I include the tag information in the notes field as:
    class=attorney

    If I want to see all lawyers, I search the contacts with the search term class=attorney. And, my assistant can do the same on my shared contacts. I am home free! Regarding Zimbra v. Google apps, one thing I like about Zimbra is the briefcase feature, so I can store some key documents in any format I use (doc, docx, xls, xlsx, pdf, txt).