Eryan Cobham

Thinker-tinker. Web Developer.

Does a Plaxo-Google Combination Make Sense to Anyone Else?

Ok, so I know that everybody has some kind of “Google should buy X company, what’s wrong with those guys!?” opinion, but I still would like to add my $.02. To that end, a couple of weeks ago news popped up that Plaxo was putting itself up for sale (see here for more).

That news (and some updates to it) got me thinking, it would be great (for me at least) if Google actually went and bought Plaxo.

I remember Plaxo from a few years back when it started. I think they were trying to market themselves as an online backup for all your addresses or something like that, I’m not sure. It seemed like everybody knew about them because once you joined, if you didn’t pay really careful attention to all the choices and check boxes, they would end up spamming everybody in your address book. I remember getting several emails from the service, followed by apologetic emails from friends that vowed never to use it again (though to be fair, my girlfriend said all you had to do was pay attention and there was no problem — but who pays attention when something is installing, you’re just clicking yes until it finishes, right?). Recently, after hearing that they cleaned up some of their annoying ways and were trying to reposition the company as a social network, and after some prompting, I signed up. Honestly, I haven’t had much use for it yet. I have it keeping in sync with my contacts from Address Book (the program), but I already keep those contacts in sync with my phone, and I back up my computer pretty regularly, so I don’t really worry about losing any info (sorry to all those people I told that I lost your info, you were just a victim of some regular pruning). It’s nice to have people’s contact info constantly up-to-date as they change it, but I don’t really talk to any of the people in my address book that use it anyway. All of the social networking aspects of it are just lost on me, because I just don’t see the point — I already have myspace and facebook. I don’t want to keep tabs on everybody in my contact list like that, and I certainly don’t want all of them keeping track of me. Plenty of them are just work contacts that I would like to keep as far away from my personal life as possible (something Google should keep in mind as well). Right now Plaxo is just sitting there, using up processor space on my computer.

I use Google’s products pretty extensively though, and one of the glaring problems that connects all these services is that the contact management sucks on all of them. This is the case even with the product where contact management would matter the most — Gmail. They rolled out some new updates to the contact manager in Gmail recently, but honestly, it still sucks. I hate that it automatically adds everybody I email to my contacts, which has had the effect of making me give up and stop bothering to prune the list anymore, since it’ll just get messy again in a few weeks. The unpredictability, with some addresses showing up in Gmail, but not showing up when I want to email a story to someone in Reader or share a document, and showing up in a different, seemingly random, order each time, is irritating as well. And, (probably a good thing because of gripe #1, now that I think about it) it doesn’t sync with addressbook, all I can do is upload new contacts one by one. It would be nice to add an address to my phone, sync it with my computer, and have all my contact info living in perfect harmony. The extra step of explicitly adding it in Gmail is getting to be too much for me.

Google buying Plaxo would help me out a lot with this whole contact management thing. I recently signed up for GrandCentral (another Google service), and I have no desire to import all my contacts into it, so I’m just doing it one by one, as I need them. Having Plaxo be the back end to GrandCentral and every other Google app immediately shores up this glaring weakness in Google’s products. Plaxo’s sync service seems to work pretty well. I don’t know if Google has any pressing need for Plaxo’s 20 million (according to the company) subscribers, but it seems doubtful, since I thought the number of Gmail users was well past 50 million (I may be making that up, couldn’t find a link for it) and on its way to catching up with Yahoo!’s 200+ million. There is also bound to be some overlap between Plaxo and Gmail users, but imagine how much that could help grow the GrandCentral service if all of a sudden Google has some pretty detailed (and constantly updated) contact information from each one of those subscribers. That would be much better than Google’s own mish-mash of email addresses that you only ever sent one message to and contact info that is only filled in every now and then. Makes it very easy to offer all of those people a permanent number with GrandCentral, doesn’t it? I could be wrong, but I think it could integrate quite well. Is it that Plaxo is asking for too much money? I’m not a financial guy, so I can’t analyze it very well from that standpoint, but from strictly a product/technological standpoint, I think the two could be better than the sum of their parts.

Full disclosure: I own some shares of YHOO in my retirement account and about $1.50 of GOOG as well. Yeah, I know, I’m practically Warren Buffett.