Possibly the most annoying aspect of moving
into any new web mail home is bringing all your family, friends, and
business contacts along with you. The average end user has almost
been trained not to expect any sort of import utility, instead
sighing and settling in for an evening of data entry.
Gmail, as with most post-1990s web mail applications worth their
salt, provides the facility for importing all those contacts in just
a few clicks; just how many depends on where you're
exporting them from. Gmail accepts only one format: comma-separated
values (CSV). Thankfully, CSV is about as low a common denominator
as you could wish for; Yahoo! Address Book, Outlook, Outlook Express,
Mac OS X Address Book (with a little help from a free application),
Excel, and many other applications, web or otherwise, speak CSV.
Gmail's Help documentation on the subject of
importing contacts is sure to keep up with the needs of its users, so
keep an eye on "How do I import addresses into my
Contacts list?" (http://gmail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=8301).
Anatomy of a Contacts CSV
First, a quick tour of a typical contacts CSV file as consumed by
Gmail's import tool.
CSV files, as the name suggests, are little more than garden-variety
text files in which data is listed one record per line, each field
separated by (you guessed it!) a comma. The simplest of all
contacts.csv files might then look something
The first line lists field names, in this case name and email
address. Each line thereafter is a single person or entity (business,
organization, etc.) in your contacts list with a corresponding name
and email address.
Gmail accepts various formats of contact entry, recognizing some of
the more common fields such as name, email address, phone, birthday,
etc. Here's a slightly more detailed
first name,last name,email address,phone
Tara,Calishain,email@example.com, (212) 555-1213
Notice that name is split into first and last name fields, email is
called emailaddress, and
there's a phone field too.
Unless you're going to be using Gmail as your main
contacts database—and I can't quite see why
you would—you don't need to import any more
than name and email address (something akin to the first
contacts.csv example) to find it useful.
In fact, at the time of this writing, Gmail does little with fields
beyond name and email address but shove them into a Notes field.
Feed CSV to Gmail
Assuming that you have a CSV file to work with (if you
don't, read on to the sections below for some
guidance), importing is a snap.
From the main Gmail screen in your web browser, click the Contacts
link () found at the bottom of the menu
on the left side of the page.
Figure 1. Clicking the Contacts link gets you to your Gmail contacts
The Contacts page opens, listing all of (or none of, if you
don't yet have any) your existing Gmail contacts.
These may have been entered by hand, gleaned from incoming and
outgoing mail, or imported at some earlier date. Click the Import
Contacts link link at the top right of the page.
Click the Browse... (or equivalent) button when prompted to do so, as
shown in and find your CSV file on your
computer's hard drive. (Just what this looks like
depends on your operating system and browser, but essentially
you're just choosing a file much like you would from
any application.) Click the Import Contacts button
and—Bob's your uncle (that's
"tada!" for my American
readers)—you should see a confirmation that all went to plan
and you've imported some number of contacts into
your Gmail address book.
Figure 2. Finding that CSV file
Click the Return to Contacts link and you'll see
your now fully stocked contacts list.
shows mine, after importing the second sample CSV at the beginning of
Figure 3. Feeding that CSV file to Gmail
Delete any number of contacts by clicking their associated checkboxes
and clicking the Delete Selected button. Edit a contact by clicking
the appropriate  link. Or type in a contact or three by hand
using the Add Contact link.
Now, any time you start typing a known contact's
name into the To, Cc, or Bcc field of a new message, Gmail will
autocomplete it for you. No need to remember that cousin Adam is
firstname.lastname@example.org or Auntie Joan is
Out of Outlook (Express)
Both Outlook Express and Outlook in Windows can
export their address books as CSV.
In Outlook Express, select File→Export→Address
Book..., choose Text File (Comma Separated Values) as your output
format (see ), and click the Export
Figure 4. Export your Outlook Express Address Book as CSV
In Outlook, select File→Import and Export..., choose
"Export to a file" and click Next,
select Comma Separated Values (Windows) as your output format, and
click Next again. An Export Wizard will then guide you the rest of
the way to saving your contacts as a CSV file.
Feed either to Gmail as described earlier.
Hopping out of Hotmail
There are a couple ways to hop out of
Hotmail with your
contacts in tow. The first goes by way of Outlook Express or Outlook
and the second using a touch of copy-and-paste, as suggested by the
Gmail team in their online Help documentation.
By way of Outlook (Express)
As described earlier, both Outlook Express and Outlook are able to
export to CSV. Both are also able to subscribe to Hotmail accounts
and synchronize contacts therewith. Putting two and two together, you
can use Outlook (Express) as an intermediary as follows.
Set up a new account in Outlook Express or Outlook, choosing HTTP as
the server type and Hotmail as the mail service provider, as shown in
Figure 5. Setting up a Hotmail email account in Outlook Express
In Outlook Express, click the Addresses icon in the toolbar to open
your Address Book. Select Tools→Synchronize Now () to synchronize your contacts between Outlook
Express and Hotmail, thus bringing your Hotmail contacts to your
Figure 6. Synchronizing with Hotmail to grab a local copy of your contacts
After a few moments of synchronization, your local Address Book will
be up to date and you can export those contacts to CSV as described
earlier in the "Out of Outlook
By way of copy-and-paste
This is one of those ugly methods that you can't
quite knock because it just plain works.
Log into Hotmail in your web browser of choice and select the
Contacts tab, as shown in . Click the
Print View link in the Hotmail toolbar.
Figure 7. Click the Print View link in the Hotmail Contacts toolbar
In the Print View window that pops up, highlight everything (click
and drag your mouse) from Name at the top left to the bottom most row
in your list of contacts. Press Control-C or select
Edit→Copy to copy the contacts, as shown in .
Figure 8. Copying your contacts
Open Microsoft Excel, start a new workbook, select the A1 cell, and
type Control-V or select Edit→Paste to paste in your
contacts list. Your workbook should look something like .
Figure 9. Pasting your contacts into an Excel workbook
Save the workbook as "CSV (Comma
delimited)" (never mind the couple warnings about
incompatibilities that Excel throws at you) and give the resulting
CSV file to Gmail's import tool.
This turns into an unholy mess under Mac OS X. Contacts are not
nicely spread across columns, leaving you with a row of contacts,
empty cells, and some odd characters in any CSV file that you attempt
Yumping from Yahoo!
Yahoo! Address Book
exports directly to CSV.
Log into Yahoo! and visit your Address Book (the Addresses tab).
Click the Import/Export link on the top right ().
Figure 10. Using the Yahoo! Address Book's Import/Export feature
On the Export section of the resulting page, click the Yahoo! CSV
Export Now button ().
Figure 11. Exporting as Yahoo! CSV
Your browser will most likely prompt you for a place to save the CSV
file on your computer's hard drive, as shown in
Figure 12. Saving the exported CSV file to your hard drive
Now, go ahead and import that CSV using the Gmail import tool,
I do apologize for the bad
"Yumping" pun, but
leave you much room for alliterated action verbs: yodeling? yanking?
Moving from .Mac
The Mac OS X
Address Book only exports to something called vCard, which is
understood by many contacts applications, but not by Gmail.
Thankfully, someone's written a magical little app
to help. AddressBookToCSV (http://homepage.mac.com/kenferry/software.html#AddressBookToCSV;
freeware) slurps up all of your contacts—name and email address
only, which is nicer to my mind than uploading a slew of data
unnecessary for your Gmailing needs—out of Address Book and
spits them into a CSV file that you can feed to Gmail. Download the
app, mount the .dmg on your desktop, and run it
right from there, as shown in . (If
you'll likely use it again and again, go ahead and
drag it into your Applications/Utilities
Figure 13. AddressBookToCSV exports Address Book names and email addresses to CSV
When prompted to do so, choose a place to save the
contacts.csv file and click the Save button.
Close the application using Command-Q (it doesn't do
so by itself when done).
Feed contacts.csv to Gmail as usual.
Hand-Crafting a CSV
If your contacts exist in some form with no obvious path to CSV, you
can always export them in any way you can, arriving at some point at
either a plain-text file that you can manipulate by
hand—tedious, but possible—or something Excel can read.
If you can get to Excel, you can get to CSV; massage the data into a
form similar to that discussed at the top of this hack, select
File→Save As... and save as "CSV (Comma
If, for whatever reason, you can't massage your
contacts into CSV form or use Gmail's Import
Contacts tool, there is a (admittedly grotty) way to get all your
contacts to Gmail using email itself.
Send out a single email message (preferably one that announces your
intention) to (on the To: line) your Gmail account (or one that
forwards to your Gmail account), copying all your contacts on the Cc:
You should probably batch these such that there's
some semblance of privacy, with your family not seeing all of your
business associates' addresses and vice versa. Send
a separate message for contacts of a sensitive nature.
When you receive that message at Gmail, open it and choose
"Reply to all." Write something
explanatory again and send it off.
Gmail automatically adds to your contact list the names and email
addresses of the people you send email to from Gmail, so
you've just added all of those people to your Gmail
Again, this is a rather annoying way (annoying to your friends,
family, and business contacts) to get your contacts list to Gmail, so
it should be regarded as a last-ditch effort.
Rael Dornfest and Justin Blanton