Brewster: the iPhone app to help social butterflies stay organized (updated)

Updated with quotes from founder, Steven Greenwood

Kudos to New York City’s tech community, which has produced some of the most promising consumer-facing startups this year. Brewster, a Union Square Ventures-backed iPhone app launched today, is no exception.

The mobile app, named after the founder’s childhood street, is designed to replace your boring A to Z address book. Given the lack of sophistication with the native iOS version, users say this is a development that couldn’t come soon enough.

Founder Steven Greenwood spent five years examining ways to bring a human touch to the modern Rolodex. According to the company blog, he previously used a spreadsheet to keep tabs on his extensive network of contacts and connections.

“I was leaving school and about to join this new company,” he told me. “I was afraid I was going to lose all my contacts, so I manually created a spreadsheet with everyone I knew.” Friends were shocked that he would go through this effort to keep in touch (Greenwood painstakingly updated the spreadsheet by hand), but most said they shared his concerns. With that, the idea for Brewster was born.

The Harvard MBA graduate’s obsession with finding a better way to manage the digital community struck a chord with investor Fred Wilson.

“Twenty years into the personal technology revolution and we are still using address books that work pretty much like physical address books. It makes no sense,” Wilson wrote in a blog post to introduce the app. 

Here’s how it works — sign in via Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Gmail, or LinkedIn, and authorize the app to access your iPhone’s contact list across any, or all, of these networks. The app will crunch the data to determine details like who your closest friends are and who you’ve recently interacted with most recently. It also lets you search through your contact list by location, name, even shared interests.

Imagine you’re on a business trip and making a pit-stop in New York. This app will tell you whether an old friend from college is living nearby and will remind you that you’re in danger of losing touch.

The formal development for the beta kicked off in 2010, when Greenwood’s former company Drop.io was acquired by Facebook. At this point, Brewster is currently available only on iPhone — but already, the 15 person team is working on a version for other devices and platforms.

If I hear about an application that can help me strike a balance between my personal and professional life, I usually bite. Brewster isn’t the only contact management solution on the market (Smartr Contacts and Buzz Contacts are potential competitors), but this one is particularly good. As one user succinctly put it in an App Store review, it’s a godsend for “all us organized social butterflies.”

The only catch is that if you, like me, have built up a fairly mammoth address book over the years, it may take some time for all that data to sync. Silicon Valley super-connector, Robert Scoble, recently posted that he is still waiting, waiting, waiting…for the app to finish processing his 10,000 contacts and databases.

For Greenwood, the distinction needs to be made that this is personal; it’s not an app for networking. “I spend a lot of time thinking about how to use technology for you to make the most out of your relationships,” he said.

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