Many people know Plaxo as a synchroniser, automater and organiser of contact information. Others are discovering Plaxo's new role as a social network.

The best thing about Plaxo, however, is that it's an incredibly powerful enabler for mobile computing. Plaxo can keep you in the loop while you're on the road.

We'll tell you about Plaxo's mobile features shortly. But first, here's a brief account of the basic services available from the company that brings you Plaxo.

What is a Plaxo, anyway?

Plaxo offers a range of products and services that perform personal information synchronisation and auto-maintenance. You tell Plaxo where you store your contacts, calendar and other personal information, and it syncs it all together.

Plaxo then lets other people update their own information, usually via email and web, so you don't have to. Plaxo products available free of charge include Plaxo Online and tool bars for Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Internet Explorer and Mac OS X.

The company also sells certain services, including Plaxo Premium, Plaxo eCards and Plaxo Mobile.

For this review, we tested Plaxo Premium, which is in essence the free Plaxo Online, plus a contact de-duper, unlimited Premium eCards, help with data recovery, mobile phone access to contacts, calendar, notes, tasks and Pulse - its new social-networking feature. It also includes phone support and the ability to store more than 1,000 contacts. The premium service costs $49.95 (£25 inc VAT) per year.

You find people in Plaxo by entering their email address or AOL Instant Messenger name. By clicking a button, they're added to your address book, which is then synced with whichever other address books you have, such as Outlook.

In earlier versions, Plaxo got something of a bad reputation because it encouraged you to spam friends, relatives and colleagues with invitations to join and to update contacts. Plaxo unveiled a new version (3.0) in June, which is much improved from a privacy standpoint. It's also more automated.

Plaxo used to support Google Calendar Sync. It didn't work well, though, so it was discontinued. Now it's back. And now it works.

Now Plaxo has a Pulse

This week, Plaxo entered an entirely new arena with its Pulse social-networking feature.

Pulse isn't a separate thing but, rather, an additional tab on the Plaxo Online and Plaxo Premium site. Unlike other social-networking services, such as Facebook, MySpace or Linked-In, Pulse is based on a mashup of both contact changes and activity on other sites.

Pulse invites you to sync both with people and with various Web 2.0 sites. Each Plaxo customer using Pulse can choose which sites to share with people. Those sites then feed the user's "content stream". This content stream is in essence a custom-built blog with the activities of others listed with the most recent activity first.

Pulse users can link to their accounts on a variety of sites, including (wish list only), AOL Pictures,, Digg, Flickr, MySpace, Picasa, Webshots, Windows Live Spaces, Xanga, Yahoo! 360, Yelp and YouTube.

For each site, the user selects which type of contact can see it. (For example, business contacts can see my blog posts, entries and Diggs; friends can see my Twitter posts and YouTube uploads; and family members see my wish list entries and Flickr uploads -- all in their own Pulse "content streams".)

The Pulse content stream shows you, for example, that in the past three hours, Steve got promoted, Janet posted a blog entry, Raul uploaded a YouTube video, and Anna got a new mobile phone number - that kind of thing.

Every item has a "comment" link. You can, for example, click the "comment" link for Steve's promotion item, and write, "Congratulations, Steve!" and Steve will then see that comment in his content stream the next time he looks. The Pulse feature also lets you send a message to your contact's content streams unassociated with anything else.

You can see why they call it Pulse - you're theoretically keeping your finger on the pulse of your circle of friends, family and business associates - at least the ones who use Plaxo.

One of the interesting things about Pulse is that it doesn't replace other social networks or Web 2.0 sites. It's not an alternative - quite the opposite. It depends on other sites and makes them easier to use. It enhances them by collecting all this information and serving it up to you on a silver platter.

We love Linked-In, for example, a business-focused networking site that gets better as more colleagues join. We used Plaxo to sync our Linked-In contacts with personal contacts. It added 40 people and found eight duplicates. (How long would it have taken to hand-enter 40 contacts and update eight?) Best of all, Plaxo promised to update information in the future as Linked-In contacts update their profiles.

Plaxo's superlative mobility

And now we get down to what's really powerful about Plaxo - mobility. In a nutshell, nearly all the features and benefits described above can go with you wherever you go. Plaxo boosts mobility in three ways.

  1. Plaxo on any computer The combination of synched online access plus Pulse, means that you can quickly get a handle on what's happening when you're on vacation, at somebody else's house or while traveling on business. Just sit down at any computer, launch a browser and check your Pulse content stream or grab the contact or calendar information you need.
  2. Plaxo on your mobile phone The Plaxo Premium service makes most content - weather, calendar, contacts, tasks, notes and Pulse - available on your mobile phone's browser. Whenever an airplane lands, everyone seems to immediately grab their mobile phones to see what they've missed during the flight. Checking Pulse will let you really get a handle on what you've missed. Best of all, Plaxo dials phone numbers in your Contacts list with one click, opens email and addresses it with one click and gives you one-click access to the Google Maps location of every address. A BlackBerry contacts database can't do that.
  3. Mobile phone backup Plaxo Mobile Plus is a separate service offered by Plaxo that syncs and backs up your mobile phone data. If your phone is lost or stolen, you can quickly reload your phone with all your information.

A few small glitches

Plaxo isn't perfect. Its full benefits are realised only for contacts who also have a Plaxo account.

Plaxo is still too eager for you to spam contacts. The default selection when you make changes is often to email everyone to let them know you've made the change. (For example, I changed the picture on my profile and Plaxo threatened to send an e-mail to all my 600-plus contacts to tell them I have a new picture. That's overkill. You have to remember to deselect that check box.)

Plaxo also doesn't try hard enough to inform you about what's going on. Help is available only by clicking on the Company link at the bottom of some, but not all, Plaxo pages. Selecting this logs you out. After getting help, you have to log back in.

Plaxo Pulse offers to share your YouTube uploads, blog entries and other information with colleagues, family, friends and others you select, but it doesn't say what share means. Will it send them an email every time you post something? You don't know (the answer is no - it only updates the "content stream" of Plaxo users you're connected to). Plaxo could be much more informative and reassuring on this front.

When we first started testing Plaxo, we found myself worrying about what Plaxo would share, how, and with whom. With more use, however, we increasingly came to trust Plaxo and were able to successfully predict what would happen as we used its many features.

Finally, Plaxo synchronises with our main Google Calendar but not the other Google Calendars we subscribe to. (Google Calendar lets you subscribe to other people's calendars, plus public calendars and mashes them into a single view.) Plaxo's Google Calendar sync would be much more powerful if it grabbed all subscribed calendars.

Plaxo: Specs

  • Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000, NT, or XP
  • Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002/XP, 2003
  • Microsoft Outlook Express 5 and above
  • Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000, NT, or XP
  • Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002/XP, 2003
  • Microsoft Outlook Express 5 and above


Despite these relatively minor shortcomings, though, Plaxo - especially Plaxo Premium - is a powerful, easy-to-use and practical organiser of information about everyone you know. It's particularly useful for mobile professionals. If you haven't checked out Plaxo lately, we strongly advise you to visit the Plaxo website and sign up for an account. And try the Plaxo Premium 30-day free trial. Particularly if you're frequently mobile, we think you'll be blown away.

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