Google may have hired Plaxo’s Chief Technology Officer Joseph Smarr late last year, but it’s Yahoo that’s finally adding the 8-year old idea of turning the address book model upside down and letting people subscribe to it rather than keep their own quickly outdated lists. They’ve launched a new feature called “Share my info” in Yahoo Contacts that is, like the old Plaxo product, a way to subscribe to contact information and have it automatically updated.
Instead of updating your friends’ contact information when it changes, your friends just do it for themselves and then everyone with permission to get that information automatically has their address book updated.
It saves a lot of hassle and it was brilliant when Plaxo launched it in 2002.
But it never really caught on with the masses and most people today are stuck with address books that are little better than they had a decade ago. Plaxo’s spamming problem probably didn’t help gain user trust, which was part of the problem. But Plaxo also lacked other features like email to make it a really useful place hold your address book.
Syncing products bring the promise of contacts Shangri La, but they never quite seem to work. I still maintain a desktop address book synced with Mobile Me as well as Google Contacts synced with my phone, and it’s a huge mess of duplicate contacts and outdated information.
There’s also a bunch of independent contact information for some of my friends over on Facebook. And in fact that’s often the most reliable data for older contacts because they keep it updated themselves. It’s very similar, in fact, to the Plaxo model. I’m “subscribed” to them via mutual friendship and it can be turned off at any time.
I hope Google starts doing this soon as well, simply because that’s the closest thing to a master contact list that I have in the cloud. And at some point someone has to solve the problem of syncing contact information and other data across company platforms. Yes, I know a ton of startups have tried this, but no one has quite gotten it dead simple and right.