Thanks for the pointer - I have a kludgy plugin (based upon the code for the ticker plugin) which presents a more pleasing UI to me.
There's a sortable grid displayed in a window with five columns "Name", "ID", "Location", "Notes", and "Online/Offline".
All the extra data which doesn't come from the IM service is persisted in a CSV file ("~/.gaimcontacts"). Working? yes. Aesthetic? no.
When I've tidied it up I'll post screenshots/code for review and possible inclusion in gaim proper.
As an aside I *love* how gaim is coded; kudos to all involved.