I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at my address book, noticed someone’s name, and been unable to figure out who the person was or where I’d gotten their information. Maybe someone handed me a business card at a party or trade show years ago and I stuck their info in my address book, but in any case, if I no longer recall the person, it’s unlikely that their info needs to be in my address book. Similarly, colleagues from companies I worked for a decade ago (and whom I haven’t been in touch with since) and other people who have dropped off my radar for one reason or another should probably not be in this list. You could manually scan your contact list and delete names you don’t recognize, but there are also ways to automate the process.
Mail and Address Book pruning
If you use Apple’s Address Book to manage your contacts and Apple Mail( ) for e-mail (either the Leopard or Snow Leopard version), you can use the two programs together to find and delete your most stale contacts. For best results, open the two programs side by side. Then, in Mail, choose Window -> Previous Recipients to display the list of everyone to whom you’ve sent e-mail. (This list is helpful only in that it facilitates automatic address completion when sending new messages. Having addresses you don’t use in here only makes addressing more awkward.) Contacts who also appear in Address Book have a small address card icon next to them. Click on the Last Used column header to sort addressees by how recently you’ve sent them mail. Starting from the oldest date, select any recipient to whom you don’t expect to send mail and click on Remove From List.
Then, for those addressees with Address Book entries (and whose contact information you don’t need for any other reason), switch to Address Book and delete the corresponding entry there by selecting the contact’s name, pressing Delete, and clicking on Delete to confirm. This procedure won’t help you find contacts to whom you’ve never sent e-mail, but it should give you a good start.
Entourage Address Book pruning
Microsoft Entourage 2008 ( ) also keeps track of how recently you’ve used any contact’s email address, but it doesn’t present the information in a way that makes it convenient to delete old, unused contacts from its Address Book. (To display your Entourage Address Book, click the Address Book icon in the toolbar, choose View -> Go To -> Address Book, or press Command-2.) However, you can quickly delete your oldest contacts with the help of an AppleScript.
First, download Allen Watson’s free Find Delete Old Contacts script and store it in /Users/yourusername/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Entourage Script Menu Items. Then switch to your Entourage Address Book and choose Find and Delete Old Contacts from the scroll-shaped Script menu.
In the first dialog box that appears, type a date—contacts with whom you last corresponded (sent or received a message) before that date will be candidates for deletion—or leave the field blank to search for contacts you’ve never corresponded with, and click on OK. You’ll see a series of four more dialog boxes asking you a variety of self-explanatory questions. If you choose not to let the script delete the contacts automatically (which is probably wise), you can opt to have it list the names in a new note, which you can then use to review the contacts manually and delete them as you prefer.
(Note: The first time you run this script, you may see an alert notifying you that a script is trying to access your Address Book. To avoid seeing this alert repeatedly, select on the Don’t Show This Message Again checkbox and click on OK.)
Senior Contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and author of numerous ebooks about OS X.