Tag Archives: Online social networking

Plaxo Gets Lax?

Sometimes things change, and it’s hard to stay on top of them. Plaxo is supposed to help with this — an Outlook plug-in (i.e. a little piece of software that attaches itself to Outlook) which will update your contacts with other Plaxo users you know, and vice versa. Nice idea, and on the whole they did a good job of executing it. But now things are changing in PlaxoLand, and I’m not sure I’m on top of them anymore.

There are privacy issues: who exactly gets to see your data? And then there’s the money issue: how is Plaxo going to make money out of it? These sort of things worry folk: David Coursey, a columnist like myself but with more readers, trashes Plaxo, as does Mike in his excellent TechDirt blog. Plaxo was fine when people you knew added themselves and shared their info, but what happens, as Mike points out, when complete strangers do it?

I started to get peeved when I noticed that insurance salesmen started adding their contacts to my Plaxo setup. Surely that couldn’t happen? I thought folk needed permission to do that? I asked Plaxo about this a few weeks back and was told: “If you are a Plaxo user and someone sends you a Plaxo card, there is a link in the notification to add them to your address book. They are only added if you explicitly click on this link.” But I’m not sure that’s true. I’m a journalist so I’ve got a lot of people in my address book I couldn’t identify in a police line-up, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t let some of this pondlife into my Outlook.

Bottom line: Plaxo need to address this and other issues before folk believe them. Sure, 800,000 people are using it in over 200 countries (how many countries are there? I thought it wasn’t much more than that) but they’ll leave in droves if they feel their privacy is being compromised.

News: Microsoft Turns Its Guns On Blogging, RSS Etc

 Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Microsoft have got their eye on blogs, RSS feeds and all those things that we love down here at Loose Wire. Microsoft Watch reports a prototype of software code-named “Wallop” — the company’s foray into social-networking software. While part of the application is a blogging tool, it also includes Sapphire, technology for simplifying and unifying data storage/retrieval; Stacks, technology for organizing photos; Personal Map, technology for organizing contacts; and MS Connect and Point-to-Point, which show connections between people (via Active Directory), as well as between individuals and groups.

News: Where Online Chat Is Going

 It’s now pretty clear where this Instant Messaging thing is going, and why Yahoo and Microsoft have suddenly started blocking third parties from piggybacking their services. Microsoft have announced a hook-up with news agency and financial data transporter Reuters allowing users of the Messenger network to chat with the 50,000 members of Reuters own internal network (used mainly by traders).
 
The idea, of course, is that the (alleged; probably much smaller) 100 million MSN users can go straight to their broker through a secure chat window. Or, as ENTnews puts it: “In theory, the combination could allow logged, real-time communications among traders and their clients. What better medium than IM for messages like “Buy!” or “Sell!” that can be immediately acknowledged by a broker?”
 
Expect to see more of this among the big boys. Yahoo are probably next up. This is not going to help ICQ users, for example, to chat with Yahoo Messenger users, but it is likely to make IM software more secure. Companies like Reuters are not going to allow instant messaging near their networks if it also brings viruses, hacking or can be easily eavesdropped.

News: Instant Messaging, The Productivity Killer

 A revealing survey by network security company Blue Coat Systems on instant messaging: Three quarters of British workers use it for personal purposes in the office, including abusive language (50%), conspiring against colleagues during conference calls (40%), sexual advances (nearly a third). Americans appear to be better behaved: less than one in five participants said they used IM to comment on senior management or to flirt. One explanation for the disparity, according to Reuters, is the Big Brother notion. Nearly 60 percent of British respondents did not believe or were unsure whether their IM conversations could be monitored by their employer while 71 percent of US respondents believed — correctly — that IM messages could be traced.
 
I’d love to see some good, cheap small network chat programs to replace ICQ and AIM in the workplace, but so far I haven’t found a good one. Chat is a great way to communicate quickly; if users know they can be monitored, they’ll keep their flirting, outrageous language and Byzantine plotting to a minimum.

Update: New Version of Plaxo

 Users of Plaxo, the automated contacts updating software I reviewed a few weeks back, may have noticed some new features popping up in the past couple of days. One is that Plaxo can tell you whether the email you receive is coming from an existing contact or a stranger and whether the information about them in the address book is up-to-date. You can then add the sender to your address book with a single click and request updated contact details from them.
 
 
There’s also a new feature that enables users to customize their own personal e-mail footer with current contact information. Since Plaxo updates itself, these new features are already available if you’ve got Plaxo installed. While a lot of folk think Plaxo’s just a spam scam, I’ve found it surprisingly useful so long as you use it carefully, and don’t expect everyone else to use it. It’s not for everyone.
 

Update: Friendster is a Noun. It’s Official

 You know you’ve arrived when your website name becomes a noun or a verb (and people making fun of your name in school doesn’t count, which rules me out). Friendster, the social-networking service I mentioned a few weeks back, will hit 1 million users this week, and is expanding at a rate of 20 percent a week, Wired reports.
 
 
So much so, that it quotes Danah Boyd, a U.C. Berkeley Ph.D. student researching online social networks, as saying the word “friendster” is entering common usage. Just as “googling” now means looking something (or usually someone) up on the Internet, “friendster” is now used to describe a person that someone meets or knows through the network. “A friendster is not exactly a friend, but rather an online acquaintance about whom a lot is known, thanks to the degree of disclosure in their social resume, which, of course, may or may not be true,” Wired says.
 
Worse, or better, depend on whether you think this is a good way to get to cram your PDA address book, Friendster networks are popping up for sale on eBay. Friendster engineers are also working on an interface that lets users see their social networks as an array of faces arranged like a spider’s web on their screens.

News: Dodgy Viral Marketing

 The folks at Sophos antivirus are drawing attention to something I think is going to pose a real problem for more sincerely motivated companies: Dodgy Viral Marketing or DVM. It’s nothing new, but it’s back, and it works like this: receive an email which invites you to visit a website to view comedy video clips, such as one of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists. (Gratuitous picture of Bill Gates being hit with a custard pie by Belgian anarchists now follows):
 
 
Follow the link in the email, and you are invited to install an application called “Internet Optimizer” (IO) from a website run by Avenue Media NV, based in the Caribbean island of Curacao. An end-user license agreement (EULA) for IO is displayed, stating that by viewing the movie you are giving permission to send an invitation to view video clips to all addresses found in the user’s Outlook address book and via instant messaging systems: “In consideration for viewing of video content, Avenue Media may send email to your Microsoft Outlook contacts and/or send instant messages to your IM contacts offering the video to them on your behalf. By viewing the video content, you expressly consent to said activity.”
 
Whoa! Back up the cart a bit, Alfie! And that’s not all. The EULA continues: ”For your convenience, [IO] automatically updates itself and any other [IO]-installed software to the latest available versions at periodic intervals. In consideration for this feature, you grant Avenue Media access to your machine to automatically update [IO], add new features and other benefits, and periodically install and uninstall optional software packages.” Great, excellent! Come on in!
 
Needless to say, Sophos is not happy about all this, and warns folk to read EULAs properly, and look carefully at what they may be installing. Sad thing is, folk like Plaxo, which I’ve talked about at length here, don’t seem to get that they have to work really, really hard not to play similar tricks in their yearning to get viral. Lesson to marketers: Don’t treat customers like idiots, just because, confronted by free software and the chance to see software billionaires being hit by Belgian desserts, we behave like them.

Link: Friendster

 
  A new website, Friendster, run by a guy working out of his living room in Silicon Valley is getting plenty of coverage. Friendster works a lot like the dating services I’ve reviewed in the past, although it also talks like a networking service.
 
Tyler Hamilton, writing in The Toronto Star wrote this week, “Jonathan Abrams only opened Friendster.com to the public in March, and in less than four months, the online community claims more than 750,000 members consisting of his friends, their friends and their friends’ friends.”
 
The basic idea, and where it may wind up better off than dating sites, is that people connect through their friends. As someone once said of dating services, they’re obsolete to the user once he or she gets what they came for, namely a soul mate. Friendster goes further than that, in theory, by folding in both friendship and love.
 
Maybe that’s why it’s caught on quickly. An impressive example of word of mouth — even I heard of it, although I have to confess the kind of folk in my particular friendship niche don’t seem to be quite as interested in the things that I am.
 
I also noticed some teething problems, which prevented me from logging in to see how popular I was. Understandable, in a product that’s not yet out of beta. The site is free for now, but will probably charge those who want to contact people they don’t already know.