Thursday, May 26, 2005

Contact Management

In the process of moving, I had to update my contact information in several dozen places -- companies and organizations with which I have some continuing relationship, social networking web sites, address books of friends and family -- it's been quite a daunting task.

I've also realized that I need a better way to manage my contacts. I use Outlook (and Pocket Outlook on my phone) for my closer friends and family, sites like Friendster and LinkedIn for more distant acquaintances and professional relationships, and then there's the massive databases of all the email I've received over the last 10 or so years just in case I need to dig back into them and find someone from way back when. Oh, and then there's the large pile of paper business cards that only seems to grow even though I never refer to them.

So, I've decided to finally give Plaxo a try. If they can get the network effects on their side, I think the notion of instantly updating your own contact info in other peoples' address books and visa-versa is a great idea. I haven't played with the service enough to write a review just yet, but you can bet I will soon. My biggest question right now is how well will it integrate with Outlook on my PC and Pocket Outlook on my phone. I'd like to keep all my contacts in Plaxo, but only some of them in Outlook or in my address book on my phone (do I really need my closest hundred coworkers, vendors, consulting clients from 4 years ago bloating my mobile phone address book?)

I also have some concerns about Plaxo's business model. Frankly, charging for what they call "Premium Products" is a bad idea. Here's why. Plaxo's biggest asset is their userbase. The larger the number of active Plaxo users, the higher the value of their service. Plaxo should be courting as many users as possible by offering a completely free, un-matched service. The value adds of their for-pay premium products (aside from support) -- eliminating duplicate address book entries and mobile access -- aren't services that most consumers desire to pay for. Instead of charging their users to eliminate duplicates from their address books, Plaxo should be giving this and more away for free to grow their core asset.

I get the impression that Plaxo realized they need to make money somehow, brainstormed for awhile, and decided the best way was to slap fees on some of their services. I bet it's rough when your investors (or friends and colleagues even) come up to you and ask you "So, how do you make money?", and you don't have a good answer. "We charge for premium services" sounds a lot better than "We don't make money". But if you look at some of the biggest success stories, like Google, the latter was exactly how they operated for some time. With a valuable asset like Plaxo's, they *will* figure out better ways to make money than charging for duplicate removals -- if they can get the service to "tip" (which so far, it clearly hasn't).

There's also the Flickr model -- build an amazing service that knocks peoples' socks off, but impose some limitations as to how the free version scales. Note how Flickr did not create "Premium Tools". They didn't even restrict posting full-size, original images with the free account. The free account could do everything that the paid account could do, only with less photos. This allows free users to get hooked by an amazing service, and decide they're willing to pay to use more of the same service (upload more photos per month). This is quite different from supplying free users with a stripped down, less-amazing service on which they won't get hooked.

The last thing on my mind regarding Plaxo is the annoying amount of information update request emails they send out. These emails are ruining their brand. Plaxo allows their users to send email notifications to their contacts requesting that they update their address book entry. This is something I would never do, personally. If I want someone's updated contact information, I will personally email them or even pick up the phone, ask them how they've been and how their family is doing, and let them know that I need their address to send them something by mail. Anyone who's like me in this way also probably finds it incredibly obnoxious to be on the receiving end of a stock message that reads "Hi from Plaxo!!! We need your contact info!!! This isn't spam and it shouldn't annoy you because you can opt out if you don't like these emails!!" It doesn't matter if my friend Bob is the one who is actually clicking the link to send me the email. It has Plaxo, not Bob, written all over it, and as such, represents Plaxo as much or more so than it does Bob. And this isn't just a personal pet peeve. When widely-read bloggers like Russell Beattie begin noting they've permanently opted out of Plaxo, perhaps it's time to re-think your strategy.

Anyhow, I'll let you know how I like the service. ;-)

Mark, am I completely off?


Anonymous said...

I had a bad experience with Plaxo. Given this occurred about 1 year ago or so, things may have changed since then.

I had a friend who added me to his list with a request I also become a Plaxo member to be able to correspond with him. During the signup process it asks grueling questions during the setup process. I was OK with this initially because I was trying to setup something I thought I would use for a long time. There were several system questions, one of them relating to sending requests to all your email contacts. Since I was at work and had my outlook client contacts for business only I didn't want to send anything to them. I explicitly stated no, or whatever the option was to not sync or use my outlook contacts. I was all set and able to read my friends information and so forth on the Plaxo website.

A couple days later I start getting spammed back. I realize that my contacts, which included everyone in the company and some customers, were spammed by Plaxo even though I selected the option not to use contacts. This was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. Here I am the IT Manager at a new company I started with and I spam everyone.

The interaction with Plaxo about what happened was even more disturbing. I sent an email request asking about the issue and why they would allow something like this to occur. The only answer I received back was that I did something wrong and that their system would never do that. I was furious, as furious as I can get for those that know me. I am positive I selected the correct option because I knew the repercussion would be.

In the end I uninstalled Plaxo and personally banned them.


markjen said...

Ren - Your experience is quite different than the one we're trying to provide. I'm sorry the way things went down, but if you'd like to chat, please drop me an e-mail.

Adam - I've posted a response to your post on my blog. I wish Blogger had trackbacks!

Zoli Erdos said...

I find the decent, spam-free yet efficient way to use Plaxo is to sign up, dload it to Outlook, but kill the email-generating feature. You WILL still get the auto-update of those who are already Plaxo members, without annoying hundreds of others.

I've posted more on this in my blog

Sleepyhead said...

"If I want someone's updated contact information, I will personally email them or even pick up the phone, ask them how they've been and how their family is doing, and let them know that I need their address to send them something by mail"

Yes, that's a nice thought if you have four contacts in your database. But if you have a contact database which containts thousands of contacts then you must use a automatic contact update service because there is no time to call everyone.

adamjh said...

How valuable are contacts that you don't have time to contact personally?

How important is it to have up-to-the-minute mailing addresses for thousands of contacts that you don't have time to contact anyway?

If the contacts are truly important to you (from a personal or business perspective), will sending them automated email messages help or hurt your relationships with them?

Stacy Martin said...

From my own perspective, sending an Update Request message through Plaxo is exactly like sending your own personal email, except Plaxo provides additional benefits.

Like sending an personal email message, the Plaxo member always controls when they wish to send an Update Request message to one of their contacts. The member can chose 1 specific contact, or perhaps a selected number of contacts in their address book to stay in touch with through Plaxo.

After the member has selected who they wish to send an Update Request message to, the member can personalize the message they wish to send.

But unlike sending your own personal email, the benefit of using Plaxo is that any response you receive will be automatically updated back into your local address book. Contrast this with sending a personal email message without using Plaxo - you must manually update the appropriate entry when a contact responds.

The other benefit to Plaxo is you may not need to send any email messages at all. If both you and your contact are Plaxo members, with the proper permission, Plaxo can automatically update each other's entries anytime someone updates their own information.

Imagine if you've got 100 friends in your address book, all of whom are also Plaxo members. They all grant you access to their updated information. Plaxo will keep your address book accurate and updated anytime they update their own information automatically. No fuss, no manual updating, and no emails.

Hope this helps,

Stacy Martin
Plaxo Privacy Officer
privacy @t