Automating Cloud Contacts

by Jon_B in


I have used Cloud Contacts to scan my business cards for several years now.

It is a fantastic service, but as I have started to use it a lot more recently I decided to review the steps it takes to get the information from a physical card into Highrise (which is what I actually use to track and manage contacts).

The process used to look like this:

  1. Receive business card
  2. Take a photo of card using iPhone camera
  3. Email photo as attachment to Cloud Contacts
  4. Delete photo from iPhone
  5. "Card Scanned" email arrives from Cloud Contacts
  6. Add action to OmniFocus to add contacts to Highrise

The OmniFocus action prompts me to import the contact into Highrise and follow up with an email or a LinkedIn request.

In the spirit of Chart Porn's take on repetitive tasks I decided to take the geeky approach and try automating this.

The new workflow now looks like this:-

  1. Someone hands me a card
  2. Take photo of card on iPhone
  3. Follow up action appears in OmniFocus once the card is on Cloud Contacts

It wasn't that difficult to set up, but it does require cobbling together a few different apps and services. In case anyone feels the need to do anything similar I have set out the basics below.

Quickshot

QuickShot is a replacement for the iPhone camera app, which I picked up from a post by Shawn Blanc (in fact this whole automation idea was triggered by that post).

I haven't really explored its functionality to the full, but for my purposes the important feature is that it lets you automatically upload any photo you take with your iPhone to a specified Dropbox folder.

By that way, if you don't have Dropbox then you can sign up using the preceding link and I get bonus storage added to my account.

I have set up a DropBox folder for CloudContacts and each card I photograph with QuickShot gets automatically uploaded to this folder.

Wappwolf

The second step involves a web-based service called Wappwolf, which bills itself as a Dropbox automator.

Again, Wappwolf is really powerful and I have only scratched the surface of what it can do, but the key is that it allows you to add automatic actions to your DropBox folder (or individual folders).

These include emailing any file which is uploaded to the folder.

I set up an action for my Cloud Contacts DropBox folder which automatically emails any new file to my Cloud Contacts account... and then deletes the scanned card from DropBox.

You could do this using folder actions on the Mac (like in Shawn's post), but the advantage of Wappwolf is that runs in the cloud and is always on. This means the rules operate whether or not your Mac is running.

OmniFocus and Mail

The next step happens in the background as Cloud Contacts processes the scanned card and adds the information from it to my account.

Once this is done I receive an email from them confirming there is a new card in my account.

The final step in my workflow uses OmniFocus and Mail on my Mac to turn this into an OmniFocus action to follow up the contact.

There are various ways to do this, but the easiest way seems to be to use the "clipping" preferences in OmniFocus to create a new Mail rule.

This rule shows up in Mail like any other, but it will be triggered by emails with "-OmniFocus" in the subject (or whatever other trigger you chose in OmniFocus preferences). When such an email arrives the rules creates a new action in OmniFocus based on it.

I just altered this triiger so the rule was triggered by emails from Cloud Contacts instead. When these arrive they are automatically converted to actions in OmniFocus.

It would be nice to be able to do this server-side with the iCloud mail server so that it worked whether or not my Mac was awake (like with the Wappwolf actions), but this seems to work well enough provided the Mac isn't switched off for extended periods.

You can create email rules using iCloud.com which run at the server end, but only for basic tasks like "move to folder" or forwarding the email (this is actually quite a nice feature if you use iCloud email - I have moved all my basic mail rules onto iCloud so they run all the time even if my Mac is off).

At the moment, OmniFocus doesn't support creating actions by email, which is a shame as otherwise the iCloud mail rules could work for this.

How does it work?

The automation works really nicely and has made using Cloud Contacts even easier than it was already. It fits in well with all the cards I am scanning at the moment having started a new job!

This is all a bit steampunk and I'm sure it could be tidied up, but it may throw up some ideas if you are wondering about ways to streamline your workflow with Cloud Contacts (or anything else which requires photo uploading).

I haven't gone for a full on how-to guide with screenshots and step-by-step instructions, but if anyone would like this then give me a shout and I will see what I can do.