Plaxo Doubles Address Book Traffic, Raises Ambitions

As we become tethered to a growing number of social media sites, the contact information of our social network inevitably becomes more fragmented. Digital address books and tools like Gist, Xobni and Plaxo are trying to organize the white noise but no one has created the definitive hub.

Plaxo wants to be the Google of digital address books but the newly minted CEO, Justin Miller, knows it will be a difficult and long slog.

Calling itself “Your Address Book For Life,” Plaxo synchs your address books and pulls in social data from more than 30 sites (like Twitter, Yelp, Flickr) through its Pulse service. The company is trying to design new products to enhance the service including a “smart search” tool that will essentially act like an executive assistant using special algorithms to comb the web and the Plaxo database around the clock to keep your directory up to date, according to Miller. That feature should be released later this year. The site currently has 20 million members in the Plaxo network and hosts roughly 50 million address books— online address book page views are up 100% year over year according to VP of Marketing, John McCrea.

Looking across the horizon, Plaxo has grander ambitions. Ultimately, the goal is to help users access their address book across a multitude of electronic platforms— not just your phone and laptop. McCrea envisions a time when you will be able to hop into your car, turn on your navigation device, say a friend’s name, prompting the device to pull up data from your cloud address book and guide you to their location.

That’s of course not in the immediate future. For now, the company is still working on an app for the iPad.

Meanwhile, Plaxo (which was purchased by Comcast in 2008 for roughly $150 to $170 million) is still trying to distance itself from a somewhat controversial past. In 2006 it wrestled with spam allegations and in early 2008 Plaxo came under fire for its data scraping techniques. All of that has been put to rest since the acquisition but the company acknowledges that there’s still a lot of work left on the PR front.

Miller and the VP of Marketing, John McCrea, dropped by our office to chat about their long term strategy, cleaning up their image and working with Facebook:

Here are a few excerpts from the transcript:

On the challenge of creating the definitive smart address book:

Miller: I think when you look back over the history of Plaxo starting in 2002, there was a great idea. Which is if everyone would put their information, their contact information, on Plaxo and they got their friends to do it when anyone updated their information all of our information would be updated and that’s great. The problem is not everyone joined Plaxo and not everyone keeps their information up to date. And so what we’re able to do, what we’re working on doing now is looking at how we can pull information from everywhere, around the web pull that together for you. But what’s taken so long, over that time, we’ve started looking at different opportunities. So a couple of years ago Plaxo started getting more and more into social networking it was this great space. And then more recently we started looking at business networking another great space but Facebook and LinkedIn are doing pretty well there right now. And recently we said you know what, there’s this need, this unsolved, unsatisfied need to create one place where people can come get all their addresses, and address book, contact information…together.

On Facebook:

McCrea: Scoblegate happened at a point and time where we weren’t collectively ready to understand the implications of users owning their data, having access to that data through open APIs, but now there’s clearly a march away from the walled gardens toward openness and operability…In a lot of ways this is a technical problem as it is any other.

On Spam:

Miller: “The perception of spam still exists in some people’s mind. It’s something that I’m really focused on when we think what the brand is. There’s a couple things we’ve gone through in terms of the history, one is spam, the perception of spam. And as John said everyone is doing it and it’s not really spam but you have that perception in people’s mind. Number two is: “Oh Plaxo is social network isn’t it?” or “Oh, Plaxo is a business network isn’t it?” No. We’re not spam, we’re not a social network, we’re not a business network, we are really focused on creating the best, smart, socially aware and pervasive address book.”