Comcast-owned Plaxo used to have a straightforward goal: It helped users maintain their address books. Over time, however, the site has wandered into becoming more of a general social networking tool with its Plaxo Pulse service. Now, chief executive Justin Miller told me Plaxo is going back to its address book roots.
Co-founded by entrepreneur and investor Sean Parker (whose role in the early days of Facebook has become famous thanks to the movie The Social Network), Plaxo originally aimed to convince everyone to create an account with the their contact information, then connect those accounts to the friends’ accounts. As people made more connections, they’d have a larger and larger network in Plaxo with completely up-to-date contact information.
That plan stumbled on the reality that not everyone created an account, and that not everyone kept their account up-to-date, limiting the contact information in the service and its usefulness as an address book, said Miller, who joined Plaxo about 18 months ago. So as a contact finder Plaxo wasn’t always effective, and instead it jumped on the social networking bandwagon. Yet it faced new obstacles — namely the fact that Facebook and LinkedIn exist, so that Plaxo users were already “satisfied with the products solving their social networking and business networking needs.”
At the same time, Plaxo’s original goal of preventing the “decay” of address books, still hasn’t been solved, Miller said. (He isn’t the only one to make that argument — WhitePages just launched its own app for cleaning up address books, called Hiya.) And the company still had some contact management products that were popular among Plaxo’s 50 million-person userbase. So with this relaunch, Plaxo is moving its existing address book tools back to the forefront. It’s launching a new product called the Plaxo Personal Assistant, and it’s announcing plans to phase out its non-address book products.
Plaxo’s existing services in this area include Plaxo Basic, a free online address book that now includes the Plaxo De-Duper (previously a paid product) for removing duplicate contacts; Plaxo’s mobile apps; and Plaxo Platinum Sync, a paid product that updates all of a user’s connected accounts and devices when they change someone’s contact information.
Meanwhile, the new Personal Assistant (another paid product) returns to the out-of-date contacts problem that Plaxo tried to solve earlier. Instead of expecting everyone to create a Plaxo account and keep it up-to-date, the Personal Assistant checks public data sources and notifies users when a connection’s contact info seems to have changed. Then users have the option of updating their address book to reflect the change.
Plaxo is based in Mountain View, Calif., and was acquired by Comcast in 2008.