Brewster will clean up the mess that is your built-in contacts app

Even though contacts are a basic preinstalled function on modern smartphones, for many, there’s still a lot to be desired about the experience. For instance, you’ve probably got old numbers for people you no longer talk to, contacts with nothing besides an email address, and eight different numbers under “Chinese food.” Even some of the best how-to articles end up recommending a manual contacts edit. It’s enough to make a smartphone user pine for the days of the Rolodex.

Enter Brewster (see disclosure), a startup that seeks to whip your contacts into shape by intelligently merging your address book with various social networks. On Friday, the company announced an update with a new beta feature that syncs Brewster contacts with either Apple iCloud or Google. The feature, which the company calls streaming, uses the CardDev protocol. This means that users don’t need to go through the Brewster app, but instead can use the autofill functions built into default dialer or messaging apps. Your contacts app will mirror the Brewster app.

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Sure, there are other companies that offer similar features, like adding Facebook photos to your phone contacts, but Brewster sweats the details. For instance, Brewster uses a machine learning algorithm to increase merged contact accuracy. According to founder Steve Greenwood, Brewster correctly guesses which contacts to merge over 98 percent of the time.

If your friend uses Brewster and changes his phone number, now Brewster will automatically update the phone number in your address book. It’s handy, but as of now I don’t have many peers using Brewster.  It’s a classic example of the network effect: As Brewster becomes more popular, then it will become more useful.

Your Contacts Data Visualization

The ability to sync in the background de-emphasizes the Brewster mobile apps in favor of its web interface, which is greatly improved since Brewster first launched in 2012. Even if your friends aren’t Brewster users, the web interface offers a great place to update their information and get it automatically pushed to your phone. The web interface will eventually provide metrics based on your contacts you communicate with most often. The new syncing service can only be set up on the web for now, not through the app.

In fact, Greenwood thinks that perhaps the app isn’t the best interface for Brewster’s service — after all, you’ve already got a contacts app pre-installed on your phone (which you likely never open). Most users engage their contacts through autofill fields in various services. As opposed to other apps that optimize for engagement time, Brewster would rather fix the contacts problem and get out of the way. “Brewster is certainly part of the growing trend of background services,” Greenwood said.

Brewster is currently free, and its monetization plans still aren’t firm. The New York based company was founded in 2011 and has received funding from Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures and also from True Ventures (see disclosure.) One thing that’s definitely out, according to Greenwood, is monetizing user contact data. But don’t be surprised if Brewster offers increased paid services for businesses, like the ability to pool and distribute sales leads. Brewster is available for iOS and Android.

Disclosure: Brewster is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.