One of the hot companies that we’ve been following is Plaxo. Founded by Sean Parker (one of the Napster founders) and two Stanford engineers, Plaxo is funded by Sequoia Capital and Globespan Capital Partners, and boasts a world-class board including Ram Shriram, Michael Moritz, Jon Callaghan and Tim Koogle.
Plaxo’s flagship product offering is Plaxo Contacts, an elegant and much-needed solution for keeping your contact information up to date automatically. Integrated seamlessly and elegantly into Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express (Thunderbird and Yahoo is also supported), Plaxo eliminates the chore of having to manually update your contact information. When a person moves or changes companies, Plaxo instantly updates their information for you, and even sends you an email letting you know that the details have been taken care of.
To review and install Plaxo we simply downloaded the client software. The first version of Plaxo is free. It is likely that future versions with enhanced features will be offered for an additional cost (much like the RealPlayer model – the basics are free and the full-featured version is available for a small price).
The installation is straightforward and you are given several options to ensure that you are comfortable with the process. For instance, you have the choice to keep your information private, or you can choose to wait until later to announce to others that you have joined Plaxo. There is also an automatic backup of your contact information so that you can easily uninstall the product later if you choose to.
During installation you are given the option to let the people in your Outlook address book know that you have joined Plaxo. All of your contacts show up in a list, and whichever ones you check will get a friendly email letting them know your current contact details and asking then to update you with their current contact information. Their replies are automatically entered into your Outlook or Outlook Express address book.
From that point on, any time you or anyone you are connected with in the Plaxo Contacts network updates or changes their contact information it will be automatically and effortlessly updated. Additionally, a Plaxo toolbar is added to Outlook that gives you access to synchronizing with the Plaxo server, updating contacts and several other options.
Plaxo also gives you access to your contacts from any computer – simply log in to their website and your contacts database is available via a web-based interface. A nice secondary benefit of this (particularly if you don’t use a PalmPilot or PDA) is that you always have a backup of your contacts in case things go awry with your computer or hard drive.
One of the best things about using Plaxo is that every day or two you’ll get a notice indicating that someone else that you know has joined the Plaxo network. As time goes on your address book becomes more and more automated, and the value of the service continues to increase.
Two other features that are very useful are Click-To-Connect and Plaxo Signatures. Click-To-Connect shows up as an icon in the upper right hand corner of your mail window that shows whether or not the sender is in your address book. If they are not, with one click you can add them to your address book and send then an update request asking for their full contact information. Plaxo signatures is a simple wizard that enables users to create a sophisticated HTML e-mail signature based on the information in their Plaxo business cards.
With a slew of features and a good user experience, Plaxo feels like a mature product. The company is serious about incorporating feedback and making Plaxo Contacts a great product that elegantly solves the problem of contact management. We found very few Plaxo problems when using it.
Using Plaxo feels a lot like using the early versions of Hotmail – you could tell that it was going to catch on and that a lot of people were going to use it. Plaxo Contacts has all of the signs of a viral product destined to take off in large numbers. If it does it will save us all a great deal of time and trouble.