Saturday, May 16, 2009

Plaxo - just not a good feeling

An informed comment on my latest Project Contacts windmill tilt led me to take another look at Plaxo. I ended up deciding to wait and see what happens elsewhere over the next few months.

Plaxo launched about 6-8 years ago, and had a very nasty reputation for quasi-spyware behavior about 4-5 years ago. They've cleaned up their act and since been acquired by Comcast.

Nowadays they're sort of a cross between LinkedIn and Facebook -- leaning more to the former. Their secret sauce is contact synchronization across Outlook, OS X Address Book, and some phones. It sounds like that's reasonably robust. They also provide some calendaring services, but there's no support for CalDAV, calendar subscription, feeds, etc. It's all proprietary. Their only outward link is to Facebook, and you can share status updates with FB (so a Tweet can go to FB and then to Plaxo).

They can authenticate with a Gmail or OpenID account -- so I didn't need a new un/pw to try them. Based on my Gmail address they suggested links to everyone who has that address in their Plaxo Contacts -- which turned out to be a lot of people I know.

So what turned me off for now?
  1. It's really unclear how they make money. Their premium services are pretty mediocre. I know how LinkedIn, Google and Facebook make money.
  2. The complete lack of standards support (ICS, CalDAV, Feeds, vCal, etc).
  3. No clear way to subscribe to calendars, just their sync.
  4. All their sync and import/export require that they get my Google un and password!! Huh? In Jeff Atwood's words, that's a total FAIL. I'd sooner give them my DNA.
  5. The stuff I care about seems to be an increasingly distant second thought to their Facebook-play.
  6. They are incredibly obnoxious and persistent about trying to get me to give them access to my Gmail and other accounts and the rights to invite everyone in those accounts to Plaxo using my name.
So I'll give this one a pass for now. Let's see if Google gets their Contacts act together in the next few months -- even if that means I have to shell out for a year of Apple's sub-mediocre MobileMe while the smoke clears.

Update: Faheem responds in comments. He avoids all the Google and other password issues, strictly deals with iCal and Outlook and Address Book sync. He avoids all the social stuff and Plaxo arm twisting and just concentrates on Contact sync. He sure is persuasive; I'm convinced he knows this turf at least as well as I do.


jetlagged said...

My suggestion is to keep it simple and only using Plaxo for what they're REALLY good at. And that's the address book sync. The level of control they offer over who sees what, and whether or not to incorporate updates is just fantastic.

Do NOT sync with Google for the obvious reasons... wait for Google to sort its mess out. I'm not concerned about exporting contacts because I can always use Address Book for that (even Outlook messes up on this score).

Calendars are more tricky. I use Outlook for all corporate stuff because every meeting involves multiple people in multiple timezones, and I can't afford to mess this up. Exchange is fickle enough, and even our Blackberry sync goes haywire from time to time. Plaxo allows me to sync my work calendar to iCal and at least view entries from home, but I would rather sync Outlook directly with Google Calendar.

I sync iCal to iPhone, and iPhone to Google Calendar (as opposed to iCal to Google Calendar, since this configuration gives me real-time updates on the phone). All shared and subscribed calendars are managed via Google. The iPhone can sync with up to 5 Google calendars, so I have one personal, one work (via Plaxo) and three shared/subscribed.

And it all sorta works: I can see all calendars via Google, my Mac, or the iPhone.

I don't bother with the other stuff they've been adding to Plaxo... LinkedIn is for my professional network, Facebook is for my actual friends, and Plaxo is for syncing my address book. That's all.

JGF said...

I'm the same way -- FB for friends, LinkedIn for business, Google for everything.

I've got a very similar setup, including the 5 calendar sync from gCal to iPhone (though I'd like to do 8 calendars, supposedly that's coming with iPhone 3).

Plaxo would be strictly for contacts then. I'll keep thinking about it...

I use Google's Outlook Calendar sync but it's very flaky. I had to archive most of my calendar to make it small enough so sync (one way only) reasonably well.

Anonymous said...

Can you sync Plaxo and LinkedIn contact lists?