After using MS Outlook for many years, I have grown accustomed to being able to archive old contacts to organize my contact list. When I switched to Gmail, it was hard to believe that this basic functionality was missing. Yes, I could export the contacts as a backup and just delete the old ones from Gmail but this is not as convenient as having all contacts readily available. Ultimately my biggest issue wasn’t that I had hundreds of contacts in Gmail while using the web-client, it was that all of those contacts got synchronized to my portable devices. I have seen suggestions online to create a contact group in Gmail for just the contacts that are desired on the phone (Android and iPhone allow filtering by contact groups) but that would require me to create a separate contact group for each portable device. My preference is to synchronize all of my contacts (regardless of which groups they are tagged with) except those that I no longer use.
The solution that I found is embarrassingly simple. The trick is that the parent contact group in Gmail (i.e. “My Contacts”) does not have to include all of the members of the sub-groups as the interface suggests by default. You can create a sub-group called “Archive”, tag contacts with that sub-group, and remove those contacts from the “My Contacts” group. Then, on a portable device, filter the contact list to only “My Contacts” which, by default, includes all the sub-groups except the “Archive” group which we explicitly removed. The other benefit of this approach is that the “Archived” contacts can still be tagged with other groups and are still readily available on portable devices when explicitly filtering to those groups (they just don’t show up in the main contact list). Wunderbar!