This is my first post on the Plaxo blog. As Ben just announced, I’m stepping up to lead the company, with responsibility across our two business units, the highly visible Plaxo.com and the less visible, but no less important, Social Technologies Group, which is bringing social capabilities to a growing list of Comcast services.
I’m very excited about this opportunity, because we have an amazing team and the market conditions are becoming ever more favorable to our mission. Though our product has evolved quite a bit over the last eight years, our vision has never been more relevant than now. Why is that?
Before the rise of social networks, Plaxo set out to solve the vexing problem of address book decay and fragmentation. The founding team sought to use network effects to create an address book that would keep itself up-to-date – and which, rather than being another data silo, interoperated with the important tools and services in your life, like Microsoft Outlook. Ironically, as the web has gone more social and more mobile, the contacts management problem has become even more acute. Now, when you need someone’s contact info, you have more places to look than ever, with no way to know which piece of data is the most current.
Since I joined the company last year as General Manager of Plaxo.com, we have narrowed our focus and renewed our commitment to solving this problem. Plaxo.com’s mission for 2010 (and beyond) is to deliver the market-leading “truly smart, socially-aware, and pervasive” address book. We’re closer to that goal than anyone, but there’s a lot of really exciting work ahead of us.
The same is true for our Social Technologies Group (STG), formed during the acquisition of Plaxo by Comcast. The STG team is a center for excellence built around Plaxo’s core competencies in address book, calendar, Social Web, and interoperability. STG is involved in a wide variety of projects at the crossroads of social and entertainment across Comcast.
Oh, and if this sounds as exciting to you as it does to me, drop me a line, because we’re hiring!
President and CEO
Five years ago, I was given the unique opportunity to join Plaxo as its CEO.
I knew that I was joining a talented team with a promising product--in a market that was just starting to appreciate the value of an open, social approach to communications. However, I had no idea how exciting, challenging, rewarding, and fulfilling the next several years would be. Plaxo would have its share of successes---and make more than its share of mistakes. We would release great products. We would help create the life-streaming category. And, with the help of Joseph Smarr and John McCrea, we would change the way that the industry thought about the Social Web. Ultimately, we would grow to be both a service that was used by tens of millions of people around the world and a technology platform used by some of the world’s leading service providers. Along the way, we brought in great people and built an incredible team.
In July of 2008, Plaxo’s history began a new chapter, when we became part of Comcast Interactive Media. Not only was this a good outcome for our investors, it also proved to be a great move for our customers, our employees, and –of course—for Comcast. Since the acquisition, we have continued to grow both the Plaxo team and the Plaxo service, and we are actively involved in projects across Comcast that are aimed at defining the future of television and communications.
While I am very excited about what the future holds for Plaxo and Comcast, my passion is in building new companies. At the end of this month, I will be leaving Plaxo to start working on my next company. Several months ago, in anticipation of this change, I began working with my colleagues to put in place the next generation of leadership at Plaxo. Fortunately, we both had a tremendously talented long-timer at Plaxo (Ryan King) and we were able to bring an impressive new leader into Plaxo (Justin Miller). When I leave Plaxo, Justin will be taking over as President and CEO, and Ryan will be assuming the role of Chief Operating Officer.
Justin and Ryan will be sharing more of their plans for Plaxo over the coming weeks. And, when it is time to announce my next project, I’ll be sure to do so via Plaxo.
However, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have made my time at Plaxo so rewarding. I’d like to thank Plaxo’s founders (Todd Masonis, Cameron Ring, and Sean Parker) and Plaxo’s original VP of engineering (Rikk Carey) for starting such a great company. I’d like to thank our investors and board (Sequoia, Ram Shriram, Globespan, Cisco, Ron Conway, Tim Koogle, Harbinger Ventures, and DAG) for their support and patience throughout the years. I’d like to thank Sam Schwartz, Amy Banse, Charlie Herrin, Ian Blaine, Eric Budin, and the many great people at Comcast for working so hard to make the acquisition and integration a success . I’d like to thank all of the talented and hard working people at Plaxo, who gave their nights, weekends, and more to make the company a success. And, finally, I’d like to thank the over 20 million Plaxo customers for all their support through the years.
While my 5+ year journey with Plaxo is coming to an end, the company is more dedicated than ever to the exciting work we have at Comcast, and to delivering on the vision of a truly smart, socially-aware address book . While I won’t be directly involved going forward, I will definitely be cheering from the sidelines.
President and CEO
If you’ve visited Plaxo.com in recent weeks, you’ve probably noticed a few changes. Specifically, a few weeks ago we updated the home page layout and the top-level navigation to give greater prominence and faster access to the online version of your address book.
These changes, in response to lots of feedback from our most loyal members, mark the kickoff of a major effort in 2010 to deliver on the vision of a “truly smart (and socially-aware) address book”. Today, we take another step down that pathway, with a major re-design of the interface and underlying infrastructure of the online portion of that smart address book.
Click on the Address Book tab in Plaxo.com, and you’ll see a new search-centric UI, focused on giving you the fastest possible access to the info you’re looking for on any of your contacts. The new design features find-as-you-type search and delivers major speed improvements – especially for those of you with large address books.
The Power of Categorization
In addition, you can now organize and communicate with your contacts using our new contact groups feature. Create, add, and email your groups with ease. You can add contacts to more than one contact group, which can be used, for example, if one of your friends is also a business associate and weekend tennis partner.
Put your Favorites Front and Center
Any contact you "star" becomes a favorite and will be directly accessible from the front page of your online address book. (Note: if you've imported contacts from GMail, you may see your "top contacts" from there have already been favorited. You can "un-favorite" a contact by clicking on its gold star.)
Where's My "Pulse"?
Of course, the webwide activity stream that we pioneered in 2007 under the brand “Pulse” is still very prominent (both as a home page module and a top-level tab); we’ve just renamed it simply, “Stream”. Future versions of the address book will tap this stream to give you a richer view of any contact at the moment it most matters – when you are about to communicate with them.
Just a Beginning
We hope you like these first few steps – and the ones that follow in the coming months. Along the way, we’re keenly interested in your feedback and your suggestions for what you’d like to see in future releases.
VP of Marketing
On your next visit to Plaxo.com, you’ll probably notice some changes. We’ve done a little clean up and re-design work to ring in the New Year. Specifically, we’ve changed the default view and the top-level navigation to give greater prominence and faster access to your smart address book.
Specifically, we’ve brought address book back up to the primary tabs (instead of just under “More”) and given the home page a new layout, with modules dedicated to the address book and to the web-wide activity stream aggregation feature we used to call “Pulse” (but have now renamed simply the “Stream”). This is just the first of many changes to come, as we take a fresh look at delivering on the vision of a truly smart (and socially aware) address book.
Of course, we will not abandon the mission of working toward an open and interoperable Social Web. Quite the contrary; we believe the industry is moving so quickly toward that natural end-state, that it presents an exciting new opportunity to re-imagine and expand the vision of an address book.
Along the way, we welcome your feedback, whether you’re a new member or someone who’s been along for the journey from the beginning. Onward!
VP of Marketing
Plaxo and Yahoo! have long been working together to improve the interoperability of our services, making the process more seamless, powerful, and user-friendly. And we've always done it in ways that are fundamentally open, so others can learn from our experiences and get the same benefits elsewhere. Yahoo! and Plaxo were the first widely available showcase of OpenID 2.0 in action, we were the first large user of their new Address Book API, and we were the first to experiment with them adding profile portability on top of their OpenID flow. And today we're taking another giant step forward!
Starting today, we're beginning the roll out of a new experiment with Yahoo! for "hybrid OpenID+OAuth signup" to Plaxo. This approach is both more powerful, and more user-friendly than anything we've done so far together. It's more powerful because a Yahoo! user can not only sign up for Plaxo using their existing Yahoo! account (no new Plaxo-specific password or lengthy signup flow required), in the same act they can now share access to their profile, contacts, and updates stream, allowing persistent and 2-way flows of their important social data. This means they can quickly become a power-user of Plaxo, and the bridge they've built will allow future updates on either Yahoo! or Plaxo to flow in both directions--as always, in accordance with the user's wishes. And it's more user-friendly because Yahoo! has incorporated the latest "Open Stack user experience" research into their design--using a friendly, light-weight popup that clearly shows the user what they're being asked to share.
As usual, we'll start presenting this new flow to a small sample of new Yahoo! users who come to join Plaxo, and we'll report on the results as soon as they become clear. Our "hybrid signup" experiments with Google earlier this year produced the best results the industry had seen thus far, so of course we're very excited to see what we can do with Yahoo! This is further validation that open standards can give mainstream users greater control over their information and a greater ability to make the tools they use work well together. In fact, the vast majority of the code we built for use with Google was reusable without modification for Yahoo! And even though Yahoo! does not yet support Portable Contacts--the emerging standard for exchanging address book, friends list, and profile data--it was easy to transform the output of their API into this standard format, so it would "just work" with the infrastructure we already had.
Read the full story from Allen Tom at Yahoo! Developer Network Blog.
Here's what this new flow looks like to a Yahoo! user that was just invited to join Plaxo:
Sharing news stories with your Plaxo network just got a lot easier with the rollout today of a new feed from the New York Times. If you’re a registered user of TimesPeople, it will only take you a second to hook it up (and if you’re not, it’s free and also just takes a second).
From then on, sharing a story you like couldn’t be easier. Whenever you read a New York Times piece that your want to share, just hit the “RECOMMEND” button next to the article. We’ll then deliver a link to the story, along with a headline, copy snippet, and thumbnail image to your profile and to the streams of all the people you want us to share it with. (Like with all feeds, there may be a slight delay before your story shows up.)
That’s right. No need to log in with your Plaxo credentials or search for a Plaxo logo on a page of sharing options. Just keep using TimesPeople like normal, and your recommended stories will also flow to your Plaxo connections.
This is a great example of Activity Streams going mainstream, connecting users of a professional-oriented social network with one of the most venerable news properties in the world. And best of all, it was built on top of open APIs—anyone could use the TimesPeople APIs and RSS feeds to build a similar integration, and nothing stops users from sharing their recommended stories into multiple sites at once, since the syndication is all done behind the scenes.
So give it a try, and let us know what you think. Browsing NYTimes.com has long been a part of my morning routine, and I often find stories I want to share with my friends or colleagues. Now I don’t have to think about which services to share on, whether I happen to be logged in, and where that service-specific sharing button has gone, I just click “Recommend” and let the Social Web do the rest!
Update: The New York Times covers our integration (on their Open blog)!
As an industry, we are collectively transitioning from the walled garden phase of social networking to an era characterized by openness and interoperability between social websites. In recent months, we’ve shown how much better things can be when websites work well together, while keeping the user in control. Now, we’re laying the foundation to enable even more interoperability later this year, this time between Plaxo and some of the other Websites within the Comcast Interactive Media (CIM) family.
VP of Marketing
Ever since Plaxo launched in 2002, we’ve attracted a very professional user base. When we added Plaxo Pulse to the mix a little over two years ago, it was a bold bet that we could make some of social networking’s features relevant and useful to busy professionals.
Our bet proved to be a good one. Our new hybrid of social and business network grew rapidly from zero to tens of millions of members, and Plaxo.com became a fast-growing destination with highly engaged visitors, who built out their more professional, more dynamic profiles, connected with other professionals, hooked up feeds, and started updating their status and commenting on content in their stream.
And as this new network grew, its demographic stayed the same. The median age of users of Plaxo.com is 42, and we’ve got the highest percentage of C-level executives (over 23% of members!), compared with other leading business sites, including LinkedIn, the Wall Street Journal, and Business Week*. And perhaps more interesting, although about a quarter of our members also use LinkedIn, three-quarters of them do not**. These two facts together make Plaxo a very attractive place to go looking for experienced professionals not findable via other sources.
But what if you wanted to go searching for people in this untapped “C-level” network? Of course, if you knew the name of a specific person you were seeking, you could type it in to our people search box. Or you could explore the reach of your extended network via the recently introduced Company Navigator. But if you wanted to search for professionals who met some set of criteria, you were out of luck. Until now…
Introducing Advanced People Search, with the ability to find professionals based on any combination of keywords, company, title, and location!
…and, while we’re at it, introducing Plaxo Pro, our ultimate package of professional network “power tools,” including ProMail, available with a choice of monthly subscription plans.
Key features of Plaxo Pro:
ProMail. Once you find the right people, whether through Advanced People Search or your Company Navigator, you can use our all-new ProMail system to message them directly. ProMail dramatically increases relevance and response rates, while decreasing untargeted messages from people you don’t know. (As with other communications preferences, you can opt out of ProMail at any time.)
(Even more) Advanced People Search. Get more results and the ability to do reference searches.
Plaxo Pro also includes all the advanced address book features of Plaxo Premium, including Outlook Sync, the De-Duper, unlimited eCards, automated backup and recovery, 24/7 support, and more. Plus, we’ll remove the ads from your Plaxo Profile!
VP of Marketing
*Source: Private study by Nielsen @Plan, April 2009.
Last month, we introduced Company Navigator, an interactive dashboard for your extended network. It allowed you to browse your connections and connections-of-connections, company by company.
It was really cool, but it was missing one critical killer feature: search. Search is truly essential for well-connected individuals like me, since my 600 direct connections bring my reach to 34,000 people, yielding 3,300 pages of Company Navigator to browse. :)
Minutes ago, we rolled out search in Company Navigator. Now, when you want to know, "Who do I know at Company X?" or "Who can help me get an intro into Company Y?", just type in the company name and go!
For example, I just typed in "Wells Fargo," and even though none of my direct connections work there, I see ten Plaxo members who are connections of my connections. The list includes three senior vice presidents and three vice presidents. And for each person, it shows which of my direct connections is connected to them (and who could easily provide me an intro if I asked).
And since those connections are in my smart address book, I could pick up the phone and call them, send them an email, or use any other contact info they have shared with me.
To check out the reach of your extended network, go to your Company Navigator.
Company Navigator is one of the free professional networking tools in the My Career suite.
We just launched a major revamp of Plaxo profiles, based on feedback from our most active users. The goal of the re-design was to give you a profile that is:
- More professional – with greater emphasis on work history and removal of religion and politics
- More dynamic – with higher visibility for stream of content you’re sharing from all over the Web
- More personal – giving more of the page’s “real estate” over to you.
Check out yours, and make sure it reflects the image you want to project to each of your key audiences. Use the new preview feature to see how your profile appears to the public, to other members you’re not connected to, and to your business network, your friends, and your family.
Here's how mine looks to my business connections:
Also, we’ve now built a bridge between profiles and address book. For the appropriate profiles, you’ll see an “in your address book” link, which slides down a little window into your address book, with contact info at a glance and an editable notes field.
Last, we’re really proud of the enhancements we made to public profiles. The new design gives you the ability to create a public presence that is professional in style, that has great search-engine-optimization, and that is truly public (not just a teaser to get visitors to sign up for or sign in to Plaxo).
We hope and believe the revamped profiles with do a better job of helping you:
- build and nurture your network
- stay up-to-date on the people important in your life and career, and
- connect you with the right people and opportunities.
If you haven’t gotten around to creating a presence on Plaxo, now is a great time, as we have also added a Profile Builder that makes creating a great dynamic and professional profile a snap!
The next time you sign into Plaxo, you’ll see we’ve added a “My Career” tab. Click on it, and you’ll find a free set of professional tools that will help you get more out of your investment in Plaxo (now and over time).
One of the most powerful of these new tools, the Company Navigator, an interactive dashboard for your extended network, just went live this afternoon. This unique tool enables you for the first time to see and navigate a company-based view into your first- and second-degree network (inclusive of your connections, their connections, and the people in your address book). Discover the reach of your network, company by company, sorted by how many people you know there (or by company name).
For Plaxo members in the U.S., the My Career tools also include Job Search, which can connect you to over 3 million career opportunities, and Social Job Listings, which turbo-charge job listings with the “social power” of the sharer’s network. These features are powered by SimplyHired, the largest job search engine, through a partnership we announced earlier this year.
Whether you’re looking for your next opportunity, looking to hire great talent, or just keen on strengthening your network, My Career has something for every professional. You’ll find tools to help you:
- Grow and nurture your professional network
- Build your personal brand
- Become more find-able
- Navigate your extended network
- Discover career opportunities
- Hire great talent
Investing in your professional network is always a good idea, but it is vitally important in an economic downturn. Now, with the My Career tools, it has never been easier to build up, nurture, and leverage yours. Get started now at www.plaxo.com/myCareer.
vp of marketing
At Plaxo, we believe we’re on the cusp of a major transformation – the biggest change to the Internet since the birth of the Web 15 years ago – as the Web goes social, and the Social Web goes open. For that dream to be realized, we need to address the pain currently associated with using multiple social websites. We need true interoperability and true data portability, with users in control.
Today, together with our friends at Facebook, we are excited to deliver on that promise, with the roll out of an integration of Facebook Connect that demonstrates an unprecedented level of interoperability between two social networks (while preserving fine-grained control of privacy).
For this first phase of our integration of Facebook Connect, we focused not on new user signup, but on making something that would rock for the millions of people who are already happy users of both Plaxo and Facebook. (In a recent survey of our most active users, we found that 60% of them were also active on Facebook – and they wished the two services would just work together.)
So what did we do for this large and growing core?
First, we decided to put an end to “Re-Friend Madness”.
Starting today, we will honor Facebook friendships on Plaxo (for anyone who wants us to). That means that you can leverage the friends list you’ve built up on Facebook to help you get more connected on Plaxo – without having to manually re-friend those people, one-at-a-time.
Second, we’re enabling two-way flows of content between the two services, leveraging new capabilities of the Facebook Platform
Now, you can feed the content you’re sharing on Facebook (such as photos, videos, links, and events) over to Plaxo for sharing to your friends here. In addition, you can sync your status updates between the two services (in either or both directions). And, when you share a link or post a review in Plaxo, you can also share it over to your friends on Facebook.
If that sounds good, you can activate Facebook Connect for your Plaxo account now.
Achieving this level of interoperability was not easy. It required lots of collaborative problem-solving between the teams at Plaxo and Facebook. From concept to launch, we were really impressed with the Facebook team’s unwavering focus on doing the right thing for the user and creating the best possible user experience.
We’re really excited about this integration. We think it’s going to be really good for our business and really good for Facebook’s business. More importantly, it’s going to be great for users.
What we’re launching today is really just the beginning. Soon, we’ll add the ability to sign up and sign in to Plaxo via Facebook Connect. And we’ll continue to collaborate with the team at Facebook on additional ways we can make our two services work well together.
We believe this is an historic day, one that marks the beginning of a new era for the Internet, characterized by an open and interoperable Social Web.
John McCrea and Joseph Smarr
This week we are announcing the availability of the Plaxo service in Italian (joining versions in Dutch, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, as well as Chinese and Japanese). What is remarkable about this accomplishment is that the central players are about 500 Plaxo users in Italy who volunteered to participate in our community translation effort through the Plaxo Translation Portal.
“Crowdsourcing” of tasks which were previously performed by a pre-defined group of people has been a rather popular offshoot of web 2.0 collaboration capabilities. But for social networking services like Plaxo, crowdsourcing takes a different meaning -- it follows naturally from the social identity of the site, and might be better called “membersourcing”. After all, who can better render a social application into another language than the users themselves?
The Plaxo translation portal was developed in the same framework as the Plaxo site. Users not only share content (translations) but can also comment or “vote” on other people's contributions. In the end the best voted translations “win” and get pushed to the site.
So, in a sense, this version of Plaxo belongs to our Italian members. It crowns a year of triple digit growth for Plaxo in Italy --- not only in new users but also in pageviews and visitors coming to our site through search.
If you have been using Plaxo in English and want to change your language to Italian, click on Settings in the upper right corner of your screen, select Italian from the language menu and save your new preferences.
Or if you are not a member yet, but like our “storia italiana” and want to be a part of Italian Plaxo, go to:
When we launched Plaxo Pulse in the summer of 2007, it was the first “social web aggregator,” pioneering the idea of seeing in a single place what the people you care about are sharing on sites all over the web. It was a big bet on the eventual opening up of the Social Web, predicated on a belief that Activity Streams would eventually go mainstream, as sites of all types and sizes would “go social.”
That bet has paid off big time, driving triple-digit growth for Plaxo, and with feed sharing and stream aggregation becoming the blueprint for the future for startups, major social networks, Internet giants, and mainstream media sites, alike. But we think this is still just the beginning, and we’re excited about innovating further on this new web-wide platform. As the first of a series of enhancements in the works, today we’re rolling out two powerful new features to give everyone a “stronger Pulse”: Comments-in-the-Stream and deep integration with the travel itinerary site TripIt.
Of course, one of the main benefits of aggregating Activity Streams from all over the web is that it simplifies staying up-to-date on what's going on in the lives of the people you know and care about. Even better, the most interesting nuggets of content, whether that’s vacation photos your friend shared on Flickr, a book your brother reviewed on GoodReads, or a movie your coworker rated on Netflix, are the natural seeds for private conversations. With today’s release, we make those conversations a more central feature of the service, bringing them front-and-center in the stream, rather than only on the details page of the shared event.
Deep Integration with TripIt; unleashing the power of "private feeds"
Since we’re interested in unlocking the value of private conversations, we’re obviously thinking about sharing as a private activity. Ironically, we got Pulse started by aggregating public feeds (and layering on a family/friends/business permission model inside Plaxo). We did that because that was what was available at the time, and because we believed that over time feeds would go mainstream and that mechanisms would emerge for getting access to private feeds. And, indeed, that has been the case, with the accelerating adoption of OAuth. Plaxo members can now take a feed of what they are privately sharing on Netflix, Picasa, and Twitter and share that selectively into Plaxo just with family, friends, colleagues, a group (or any combination of those).
Today, we add to the list of private feed sources the online travel itinerary site, TripIt, via a deep integration with their recently released Open Travel Itinerary API. Now you can share your travel plans with whatever subset of your Plaxo connections makes sense to you.
They’ll see your trips in their Pulse stream (and so will you). As with other feeds, we’ve done some custom work to make the events more detailed and engaging, including images and destination specifics (such as the event: “SXSW Interactive”). And when looking at your own TripIt events in your stream, you’ll also see a link to the full itinerary on TripIt.com.
But that’s not all! We’ve also integrated this with the Plaxo calendar, so you can see your itineraries as events in relationship to your other time commitments.
We believe this integration shows some of the great promise of what activity streams can enable. Joseph Smarr was able to crank this out really quickly, because it combined two of his great passions (OAuth and TripIt), because open standards allow re-use of code and knowledge, and because he had the agile support of TripIt. Andy Denmark and the rest of the TripIt team were great partners in the development process, taking feedback and making tweaks to the API.
To hook up your TripIt feed, go here.
This is a really exciting time in the industry, as the Web goes social, and the Social Web goes open. We've got a lot of great things coming...stay tuned. :)
vp of marketing
This is a great time at Plaxo. In 2008, we had triple-digit growth in all of our key metrics, including new users, monthly unique visitors, and pageviews. We increased our network density, with the number of connections in our next-generation social network skyrocketing from 2 million to over 30 million. We got acquired by a stable, profitable, and growing company, while remaining an independent business unit, resourced for growth. (We’re hiring.) And, we’re making great progress at becoming a vital social utility for one of the most valuable demographics: post-college professionals.
But, of course, we are well aware that most companies out there are in a different position, and that our members are confronting a deepening recession, rising unemployment, and decreasing job security. It is that sobering reality that inspired us to come up with a better way to connect job seekers with career opportunities, working together with Simply Hired, the largest job search engine, to introduce “social job listings” on Plaxo.
For users in the U.S., we’ve rolled out a new Jobs section on Plaxo, where hiring managers and recruiters can post new job listings, and where job seekers can browse or search postings from across the Simply Hired network. But jobs posted on Plaxo aren’t like job listings anywhere else; job listings on Plaxo are turbo-charged with the “social power” of your extended network.
Social Job Listings
When you post a job to Plaxo, you have the option of sharing it to any or all of your Plaxo network. For example, you might choose to share the listing to your business connections and to one or two groups that you’re a member of. Or you might share it to your friends and your business network. Or for that matter, you might also share it with your family, if you have family members who might be able to help source candidates! Oh, and of course, your can share it via email with anyone, whether they’re a Plaxo member or not.
On Plaxo, the listing is then like any other shared event in the Plaxo stream, which means you and the people who receive it can comment on it, and anyone who receives it can re-share it to their networks!
And what happens when that social job listing finds its way to someone who wants to apply for the opening? At Plaxo, we’re all about openness and user control. So, as with other user-shared content, we view this as your job listing, not ours. And that means that we don’t get in the middle of communications between you and potential applicants. They can respond to you directly via email.
Of course, this is just a first release. We’ll be measuring results, monitoring feedback, and looking for more ways to innovate at the intersection of “social” and job listings. Oh, and we’re currently offering a limited-time launch promotion, with a 25% discount on any posting.
VP of Marketing
At Plaxo, we’re big believers in (and early adopters of) OpenID, the promising open standard for online identity. As a result, we’ve suffered as much as anyone the shortcomings in user experience of some of the early implementations out there. Today, we’re pleased to announce Two-Click Signup, an initiative we’re kicking off to improve the user experience of OpenID, and the rollout, together with Google, of our first live test of a Two-Click Signup flow.
Our first live test takes an innovative “hybrid approach,” bringing together three discrete technologies into a unified experience: OpenID for sign-on; OAuth for delegated authorization; and the Google Contacts API for secure import of the user’s address book. Of course, that’s all “under the hood;” the user certainly doesn’t need to have understanding (or even awareness) of these enabling technologies – no matter how cool we think they are. ;)
The goal of the Two-Click Signup initiative is simple: deliver a new user onboarding experience based on the “Open Stack” that is strictly better for all parties than traditional registration flows. And that means we want to achieve something that it is:
- better for the user by being more convenient and more secure;
- better for the identity provider by not asking the user for their password and then scraping their data; and
- better for the site by delivering a higher conversion rate on signup flows and getting more useful data from the user.
In this first test with Google, we’re experimenting with an optimized flow that starts with the invitation from a Plaxo member to a non-member via Gmail. Because we know the invitee is a Google user and is quite likely to be signed in to Google at the time they click over to Plaxo from the invitation, we can present them a “Google-optimized landing page” like this:
From there, it’s just two clicks to become a registered user of Plaxo. The first click takes them back to a Google consent page that looks like this:
The second click lets the person, if they choose, do two things: agree to use their Google account for signing in to Plaxo, and tell Google they grant Plaxo permission to access their email address and Gmail contacts. That allows us to get their address book started and to help them find the people they know on Plaxo. (Of course, if they choose not to use their Google credentials to signup, they can, of course, click over to our standard registration flow instead.)
[Please note: At this time, this is a test that will be seen by only a subset of Gmail invitees. Depending upon results, we may turn that percentage up or down or even suspend the test temporarily.]
We think this is a great start, but there’s a lot more work ahead. We need to monitor the results and then iterate rapidly, based on the data. And we need to follow-on with experiments with other identity providers, including not only other other webmail providers, but also with social networks. As with all things open, we’ll share what we learn along the way. After all, this isn’t just about improving OpenID for users of Plaxo and Google; it's about enabling user-controlled data portability and interoperability across the emerging Social Web.
vp of marketing
Plaxo is all about staying connected to your family, friends, and colleagues by sharing the things that are happening to you. One thing that almost all of us do (despite what Steve says) is read books, and we love to talk about the books that are influencing and entertaining us.
Well, good news for all the good readers out there: goodreads is now integrated into Plaxo, making it easy to rate, review, and share the books that you've been reading. If you're new to goodreads, signing up is a cinch, and you can then hook up your goodreads feed to Plaxo so all of your reviews will be shared automatically. As always, you choose who gets to see your reviews--maybe you want them to be public, or maybe you just want your friends and family to see them. And since every shared review has its own comment thread, discussions are bound to break out; after all, everyone has an opinion on what makes a good book!
Example goodreads review shared in Plaxo
So give goodreads a try and let us know what you think about all the books you've been reading. And who knows, you might just find a good suggestion or two for your next book to read!
You may have seen the news today that Google Friend Connect is now available to all sites. The official announcement over at Google describes the details:
We're pleased to share that Google Friend Connect is now available in beta to any webmaster looking to add a 'dash of social' to his or her site. This service lets webmasters add social features to their sites by simply copying and pasting a few snippets of code — no advanced coding or technical background required.
We know that people want to be social on the web, and Friend Connect makes it easy for anyone to sign in to a website, share a little bit about themselves through a personal profile, discover other people with similar interests, invite their contacts, and interact with friends. Even better, you don't have to deal with the hassle of creating yet another username and password — Friend Connect lets you log in using an existing account from Google, Yahoo, AOL, or OpenID. Similarly, you can choose to either establish a new profile or use profiles and friend sources from other social networks that have opened up their services, like Plaxo and orkut.
We're thrilled to be a part of this ambitious project, and we think this is great for Plaxo members. Now, you can visit any Google Friend Connect enabled site and in just a few clicks be signed up, signed in, with your Plaxo profile photo, and access to your friends. And if you elect to "Share your activities on this site to other users and friends," your activity stream from that site will get shared back into Plaxo.
We are in the early phases of a major transformation of the Web, leaving behind the "walled garden" era of social networking, and looking forward to the arrival of the Social Web. Our goal is to make Plaxo a service that is useful to you all over the Social Web, and today we just took an important step forward on that pathway.
For a bit more context and some screenshots, check out my post on TheRealMcCrea, that puts this in the context of other news of the day. Also see Joseph Smarr's original post on this integration, when we first announced it in June.
vp of marketing
Yahoo has been working fast and furious to help their users take their Yahoo account with them across the web using open standards. Today they've released a limited test of a major enhancement to their OpenID provider: when you sign up for Plaxo with your Yahoo ID, you can now opt-in to sharing your Yahoo! profile data--full name, nickname, e-mail address, gender, language, and timezone--almost everything you need to get up and running with Plaxo or most other services. (During this limited test roll-out, sharing of profile data will be available to a few sites, including Plaxo and Jyte.) Best of all, we can now auto-validate your Yahoo! e-mail address (since it's coming from Yahoo!), rather than having to send you one of those e-mail messages to click and confirm you really own it. Yahoo! thus joins Google in their ability to provide an auto-validated email address during sign up, but they've now gone further than any major OpenID provider by also sharing the rest of the profile data. This is a great step forward for Yahoo, relying parties like Plaxo, and the Open Web--congrats are certainly in order!
This announcement comes on the heels of Yahoo's pioneering usability studies on OpenID, which they published for everyone to benefit from (they even went a step further by hosting an OpenID UX Summit on their campus). And Yahoo! is eating their own dogfood--they also recently streamlined and clarified their own OpenID flow. These guys are on a roll, and they've been great to work with!
At the recent Internet Identity Workshop--an biannual gathering of people working on OpenID and related technologies--the folks at Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, MySpace, and others were all very focused on "how can we make OpenID work better for mainstream users", and the clear consensus was to a) improve the UX, and b) share more data when signing up for a new site. Clearly a lot is happening already in the first category, and Yahoo!'s announcement today marks some serious progress in the second one. The hot topic next is how to let users also seamlessly grant access to their address book or friends list--after all, so many sites today ask you to import your webmail address book to find connections and invite people to join. Technically this will be accomplished via a hybrid OpenID and OAuth protocol and Portable Contacts (Yahoo! today is using the "simple registration extension" to OpenID, which is ideal for transferring basic profile data, but insufficient for providing access to richer private data via APIs). We all made great progress on nailing down the details of this hybrid protocol while at IIW.
Given the excitement and eagerness of all the participants there, I think we can continue to expect more and more data to flow across the OpenID link, which will make it increasingly valuable for Relying Parties like Plaxo, and should incentivize many more sites to become RPs themselves. It's great to see this virtuous cycle in motion, and Plaxo is eager to work with any and all OpenID Providers who want to improve their UX and empower their users to use more of their data across the web!
PS: Here are some screen shots of 1) the "Sign in with your Yahoo! ID" option on Plaxo, 2) the consent page on Yahoo, where you can choose to also share your profile data, and 3) returning to Plaxo with a pre-filled registration page and no need to enter a Plaxo-specific password! Since this is a limited test, we're eager to hear your feedback both at Plaxo and Yahoo!, so if you haven't yet signed up for a Plaxo account, please give it a try and let us know what you think!
PPS: We also discussed this announcement in more detail on thesocialweb.tv -- check it out!
We’ve been working hard the past few months to bring the social benefits of Pulse to Plaxo eCards. Now with our latest release, you can:
• Send social eCards. When you are sending a Plaxo eCard, you have the option to mark it “social”, allowing your recipient’s connections to see your sent eCard and add their comments. For example, let’s say that your friend Trevor has achieved a major accomplishment. You can send Trevor a congratulations eCard and allow his connections to see it. This helps them discover Trevor’s accomplishment so they can congratulate him, as well. Of course, if you only want Trevor (and no one else) to see your eCard, you can mark it “private”.
• See comments on your sent eCards. Your recipient(s) can add their comments after seeing your sent eCard online. You’ll then receive an email notification that will tell you where to go to see those comments.
• Keep track of your sent, received, and scheduled eCards. Can’t remember if you’ve already sent a birthday eCard to someone? Well, now you’ll be able to see what eCards you have already sent or have scheduled for future delivery. Also, you can view the various eCards on that you’ve received on www.plaxo.com so you can revisit the most memorable ones. You control which people have permission to see which eCards.
And with the latest enhancements, we will be able to add animated eCards to the continually growing catalog of Plaxo eCards. Stay tuned for updates!
Here's an example of a social eCard:
While all Plaxo eCards are now picked up online (instead of an email inbox), we hope you’ll agree that the new viewing approach provides a richer experience for the sender and recipient. Feel free to check out the eCards FAQ for more details.
Enjoy the new Plaxo eCards experience and let us know how we can make it even better for you!
Director, Product Management