Last week, I posted about LinkedIn’s launch of a series of new applications for their site. Within my post, I referenced Plaxo and connected with John McCrea who currently works as Plaxo’s VP of Marketing. Having previously discounted Plaxo as a worthwhile site for my professional networking needs, I asked John to shed some light on the site’s current business model and tell us about his own work in the digital space.
My perception of the site has admittedly changed and I look forward to diving in further to explore networking opportunities.
Sorry for the length on this one, but there is some great insight here. Be sure to connect with John on his blog or on Plaxo, which also provides links to his other social media sites. Thanks for taking the time to fill us in John.
How has Plaxo evolved since its start and what do you see as the primary focus for the direction of the site?
JM: Though there have been many changes along the way, it is interesting to note that our central mission has never changed. Plaxo has always wanted to be a vital service for helping people stay connected with the people they know and care about. Originally, that meant a focus on address book, but not some standalone address book. Rather an address book in the cloud that syncs with the address books you already use inside tools like Microsoft Outlook or the address book on your Mac. We were doing “data portability” long before that term became popular.
When social networking was young, and largely meant people connecting to strangers as “friends,” we ignored it. But the more social networking became about real identity and real relationships, the more we saw it as part of our mission. Keeping you connected with the people you know and care about, across all the tools and services you use becomes more complex and more important in a world of social networking and social apps.
So, last year we jumped into the space in a big way. We introduced our own social network, designed to “bring your address book to life,” with three major differentiators. First, we restored meaning to the word “friend” by making it one of three choices: family, friend, and business connection. Second, we pioneered a new kind of personalized news feed, one which brings in content from blogs, Flickr, Yelp, and dozens of other sites, based on what the people you’re connected to want to share with you. And third, we took a strong stance in opposition to the “walled garden” model and have worked really hard to champion user rights of data ownership, data portability, and interoperability.
How is Plaxo working to differentiate itself from sites such as LinkedIn?
JM: First off, I should say that we don’t see ourselves as competing with LinkedIn. We are much more interested in bringing about a day where there is really great interoperability between Plaxo and LinkedIn than we are in trying to convince people to switch from LinkedIn to Plaxo. Fundamentally, the two service do different things well, with LinkedIn very focused on business networking for career advancement, and Plaxo offering a combination of a smart address book and a personalized news stream that brings that address book to life. When I connect with someone on LinkedIn, I get their email address and access to their online resume. When I add that person on Plaxo, I often get their contact info (including mobile phone) and get to see a richer view into their “lifestream.”
Give us a quick percentage breakdown of where or how you spend your time online on an average day.
JM: Is there such a thing as a typical day? I head up marketing at Plaxo, so I’m very externally focused. I have tabs open in my browser for Plaxo, FriendFeed, Twitter, Twitter Search, and Facebook. I’m an addicted user of all these tools, and they help me greatly to see what’s going on. I also blog quite a bit, and shoot a weekly Internet TV show at http://thesocialweb.tv. I also stay on top of news via Techmeme and Google News and all the top tech blogs.
As we all continue down this path of hyperconnection, which major social media trend do you think will guide the digital landscape five years from now?
JM: That’s actually a really easy question to answer – the opening up of the Social Web. The “walled garden” model of social networking died this year, and we are heading into 2009 with incredible momentum behind the new “open stack” (OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, OpenSocial). The changes this will unleash will be as dramatic as the birth of the Web itself. The really big waves only come once every fifteen years on average. I am looking forward to another wild ride. This one may prove even bigger, as it is coincident with the iPhone/Android revolution that is putting a location-aware open compute/communication platform in our pocket. An example of the cool things becoming possible in a world of portable “people data” and location-aware mobile computers: the Obama iPhone app. The new Open Stack will enable anyone to build the next great killer social app.