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 Amazon.com (wish list only), AOL Pictures, Del.icio.us, 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, Del.icio.us entries and Diggs; friends can see my Twitter posts and YouTube uploads; and family members see my Amazon.com 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.