Unfortunately, I've realized that Plaxo just isn't for me. Here's why:
1. In the end, the only value proposition I found in Plaxo was the ability for my contacts to update their own contact information through their Plaxo accounts and have it be automatically reflected in my address book. Unfortunately, so few people in my address book use Plaxo (i.e. none), that it becomes apparent rather quickly that I won't be realizing the benefits of this value proposition at all. The dream is that everyone uses Plaxo to manage their contacts, and then everyone's address book is always up to date with zero management overhead. I don't believe that Plaxo, with its current suite of offerings, can gain a large enough userbase to get there.
2. My initial intended use of Plaxo was as a means of managing and storing all of my contacts. I have personal contacts in Outlook at home and business contacts in Outlook at the office. I have a list of people I call often in Outlook on my phone (which currently syncs with Outlook at home). I have stacks of business cards belonging to plumbers and appliance repair services that I only want to find when I'm searching specifically for them. Unfortunately, Plaxo didn't give me the functionality I needed to keep these sets separate (sync some contacts with work, some with home, some with the phone, and some.. just don't sync at all).
(Sidenote: In the end, after deciding Plaxo wasn't gonna do the trick, I decided to continue to keep the work and personal contacts separate, and attach an Outlook category of "Phonebook" with the personal contacts I want in my phone, then filter the view on the phone to show those contacts only, but still sync the entire list.)
3. I wrote about this a bit in my previous post - I don't buy into sending my contacts automated update request messages. Stacy Martin, Plaxo's Privacy Officer, actually left a comment on this topic earlier this evening. Stacy, I'm glad you've signed on to the idea of engaging the community. I just certainly hope you're doing it to solicit feedback as much as you are to spread Plaxo's preconceived vision!
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.
But Stacy, my using Plaxo to solicit updated contact information does not get rid of the burden of manually updating the appropriate entries. It only shifts the burden from me to the person whose updated information I'm requesting. In fact, I believe that's what upsets me so much about being on the receiving end of automated Plaxo update request messages. If you are requesting information of me for your records (your benefit), the least you could do is have the courtesy to put it into your contact management application's forms yourself, rather than expect me to do it for you. By making it easy on yourself, you are making it harder on me, and by involving the Plaxo automated system in the first place, you are making our limited contact even less personal in nature. And while the solution is "Everyone just use Plaxo", the incentive (obviously) just isn't there.
4. The idea of accessing my information anywhere through Plaxo online is a great one. But fortunately, all of my contacts, calendar items, and tasks are seamlessly synced to my phone, already allowing me to access my information anywhere. So, alright, not everyone has a smartphone. Like I said, I like the Plaxo online feature. But it's certainly not the future - because many business users already do have smartphones with these capabilities, and soon enough, everyone else will too (well before everyone else uses Plaxo, right?). The same goes for Plaxo's premium mobile access feature. Why do I need to access my information by WAP when a) I already have my information on my device and b) my device (and more and more other devices) already have fullblown web browsers? It's a nice-to-have, but there's no future in it.
I've already blogged a bit about how silly it is to offer duplicate address book entry removal as a premium product. I think it's just as silly to have included a Yahoo search bar in the Plaxo plugin. I can already add search plugins to any application, or even my taskbar! No more search bars! I realize they're essentially free to implement, and then you get to list them as a feature on your feature page. But c'mon, how about innovating and creating something completely new and useful instead, and leave the search bars to the search companies?
So, what should Plaxo do instead?
Give me some real incentive to use Plaxo to manage my contacts.
That incentive needs to be more than a dream of how amazing it could be (but isn't yet) if everyone else also used Plaxo. It needs to be more than another search bar and more than the ability to sync contact information between computers. And when you give us all that incentive, the amazing dream will fall into place as a bonus.
Where are my contacts right now? If they use AIM, Yahoo Messenger, or MSN Messenger, are they online or away? If I'm traveling on vacation or for business in New York City, show me any of my contacts who are living or also just traveling nearby. What kind of music are my contacts listening to? What are the top 10 songs that my friends have ranked in their playlists? Let me schedule a dinner party among a group of people in my contacts. Let me see relationships among my contacts (if they desire to allow me to do so). Show me my contacts' flickr photos. Now that I think about it, why do I have 'contact networks' in AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Friendster, Orkut, Flickr, and the list goes on and on and on...
Don't re-invent the IM client or the social networking web site, but reap the benefits of each and bring them into the realm of contact management. And do it now, before somebody else does.. while there's still time to be the first mover and achieve some lock-in. The goal might have been to alleviate the pain point in managing large numbers of contacts. I don't buy that model, or at least I don't buy it alone (and neither do you if you've found yourselves resorting to boasting about search bars). Time to change it up.