A number of blogs are reporting that on Monday, Plaxo, a company best known for its revolutionary service that synchronizes and updates user contacts lists, will apparently transform itself into a social networking company, under the brand name "Pulse." It seems that Plaxo has decided that it likes the Facebook business model more than its own.
I like Plaxo, an InfoCommerce Model of Excellence award winner way back in 2004. Its business of synchronizing contacts among user databases information is brilliant, and its technology is breathtaking. That's why I am disappointed to hear that Plaxo may be trying to move in a whole new direction. My free advice to Plaxo: before re-inventing yourself, focus your creativity on building out more applications based on your remarkable technology, and oh yes, stop giving away so much value for free.
And what of Facebook, the social networking site formerly the province of college students, but now open to the rest of us? Industry pundits are now whispering (loudly) that Facebook is poised to give Linked-In a run for the money since it is now re- defining itself as a communications platform on which third parties can build and extend Facebook capabilities. All this massive expansion comes with the risk that Facebook will lose its identity as the addition of users like me likely drives its coolness factor to zero among the college students who fueled its rise. Further, I am willing to make a small bet that Facebook's cavalier attitude towards data privacy is going to explode loudly in its face in the near future.
And what about Linked-In, another 2004 InfoCommerce Model of Excellence award winner? I am not sure that Linked-In's original premise, building on the "six degrees of separation" notion to foster professional contacts, played out in reality as well as it did in theory. At the same time, the company has been nimble and creative in finding ways to monetize what to my eyes is one of the single greatest treasure troves of data on business professionals. Importantly, Linked-In understands the information value in implicit and explicit connections as its users voluntarily indicate their connections to others. I think it's also telling that Linked-In seemingly is doing so well selling access to its data in various ways. There's something about proprietary content!
Bottom line: Plaxo is getting off the turnpike at the wrong exist; Facebook needs to do a lot of growing up before it becomes a real tool for grown-ups, and Linked-In seems to offer confirmation once again that content is still king.