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WEB REVIEW: Find your address book perplexing? Consider Plaxo

September 4, 2010

I spent several paragraphs of my last column telling you about three of the top social networking tools available and why you should be paying attention to them, both personally and professionally. I intentionally left one off because I thought it deserved a little more direct discussion. It’s called Plaxo (www.plaxo.com).

Plaxo has certainly tossed its hat into the social networking bullfight, but its real utility lies in its original concept. At heart, Plaxo is a manager for your address book (or Rolodex if you happen to be of a certain generation). Here’s how it works and why it’s awesome:

First, you add your contacts from wherever you store them: Outlook, address book, g-mail, etc. Once online, they serve as a backup of your information in the event that something happens to your computer. The real beauty of Plaxo is its connected nature—after you upload your own contacts to Plaxo, it can look into its universal repository and notice that I happen to be a member, too, and it prompts us to make the connection. Once we’re connected, the magic happens. 

In this transient world where many people change jobs and e-mail addresses like shoes, Plaxo can be the most efficient tool available to help stay in touch. It works on a simple premise: Everyone is responsible for maintaining his or her own data.

Let’s say I change my phone number, or move to a new city to start a different job. Well, if we’re connected on Plaxo, any time I make a change like this, your address file for me automatically updates. To put it another way, if everyone were using Plaxo and we were all connected, every e-mail address, every mailing address, every phone number of every person in your digital Rolodex would always be right.

I’ll just pause here for a moment to let that sink in.

The basic service is free, but for a small fee you can also access a host of premium features, including syncing your contacts in real time with your Mac, Outlook, Google or a Windows Mobile device. You can also send an unlimited number of eCards from Plaxo’s selection.

One of the coolest premium features is the De-Duper, which looks through your contacts and makes suggestions to intelligently merge similar ones. Aside from contacts, Plaxo can also help you manage your calendars, including syncing the data across multiple accounts and platforms and notifying you of upcoming events, such as birthdays or meetings. 

While it began with the simple but powerful idea of maintaining addresses with the power of the network, it has since added other functions intended to “enrich your connection with the people in your life.” The main addition is Pulse, which is intended to help you stay in touch with people you know and care about and to see what they are creating and sharing online. The utility of the service is still a little suspect, since I think most people that are using tools like this are more likely to use the big three networks (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.) But Plaxo’s intent is in the right place, and it backs it up with very finely tuned control over what you share with whom and a privacy policy that is one of the strongest anywhere.

Even without the addition of the social streaming tools, Plaxo remains the biggest and best online address book management tool, and the automatic nature of keeping contacts updated trumps any other service I’ve come across. For someone like me with more than 5,000 contacts in my address book, it’s fairly common to find out that many of them are outdated. I send an e-mail to someone I haven’t seen in a while or pick up the phone to call a former colleague only to find the information is bad. When this happens, correcting it can be annoying.

With Plaxo, you don’t have to work to keep everyone’s address updated: Every individual owner will do it for you. It’s an ingenious idea, and the only real problem with it is that not everyone uses it. If everyone did, imagine how simple it would be to stay in touch. Plaxo currently hosts address books for more than 40 million people and is growing rapidly. So if you’re tired of bad contact information cropping up in your life, join Plaxo and make the world a better place, for you … and me.•

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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