I used to work at Plaxo. The team there is pretty damn good. When they released the Pulse product, I really really liked it. My immediate thoughts were that they were really taking a fresh new direction. They were doing new things and finally incorporating some of the good ideas that other companies had proven to work.
Around that same time, it was also propagated on the blogosphere that Plaxo was the “open Facebook”. I had attended the Facebook ‘F8’ event, and the two seemed far apart at that point. Also, the initial Pulse release wasn’t where it is at now. So the thought of Plaxo as the ‘open facebook’, didn’t really sink in.
Now, time has passed. Plaxo was the first to launch Open Social platform. Facebook has launched beacon. Lots of facebook apps have launched. In fact, Facebook apps have essentially just become synonymous with ‘casual gaming’. No other apps have really popped up that are useful in the social context. For a lot of people, this is a bit of a let down. Also, both companies are starting to experience the same issues around privacy. So, the question now is: how are they different?
This is where it gets interesting. Their content and UI are very similar. The big difference is where do the users and apps live. In Facebook, they all live on Facebook. With Plaxo, the users and apps live on the entire internet. For example, on Facebook you have to use the Facebook photos app to share photos. If you are on Plaxo, you can use Flickr. This is a huge difference and one that will probably hurt Facebook in the long term. History shows that walled gardens always fail on the internet. There is a tremendous fear (and rightly so), that Facebook is locking in people on their platform. Lets dig a tiny bit deeper.
In the Plaxo model there is a better fit from a business perspective. Partnering is a lot less lopsided in favor of Facebook. From a consumer perspective, they are on par: the user has more choices, and the UI is a lot less constrained. This is where the Google analogy comes in. Their strategy is similar. Google does not try to own the content, they just help organize it. Plaxo is doing a fantastic job of organizing some new content… the open social graph.
So now I get it, and I’m really impressed at the magnitude of the potential. I have never seen the company move this fas and be so much in the loop. They are in an excellent position!