Plaxo Etiquette: Moral High Ground Or Cheap Stunt?

Plaxo, the online contacts exchange that got some good, and bad, press two years back, is trying to brush up its members’ manners with some Plaxo Etiquette:

Each and every new technology has a learning curve as we figure out how to use it, and use it well. Remember when you’d frequently see people talking on their cell phone in a restaurant, or in the movie theater? And how many of those forwarded blonde or lawyer jokes were really funny?

Plaxo is committed to helping you become a better member of the digital world. Below you’ll find a few tips and suggestions on how to make the best use of Plaxo.

Not bad stuff, although some cynics might say it’s a few years too late. After all, one of the problems that its critics cited was the ease with which users could spam everyone in their Outlook address book, not considered a particularly polite thing to do in any community.

I’m not going to be cheap. It’s good that Plaxo is doing this, late or not. I did, however, feel the PR pitch that accompanied the announcement was a bit overly precious:

Plaxo, provider of an Internet service for updating and accessing contact information, is committed to helping its users be better members of the digital world. The company recently introduced Plaxo Etiquette (http://www.plaxo.com/privacy/manners) to guide members in the proper way to use the technology from the get-go. We challenge other providers of prevalent technologies to do the same.

Cynics, once again, might say that Plaxo was part of the address book spamming lapse in etiquette to start with two years ago, so suggesting it’s suddenly ‘committed to helping its users be better members of the digital world’ and that it feels it occupies such moral high ground it can ‘challenge other providers of prevalent technologies to do the same’ might be considered somewhat rich. I wouldn’t say that, of course; nor would I suggest this is a self-serving piece of publicity to raise the profile of a service that hasn’t been heard of — at least in a positive light — very much in recent months. (A keyword search for Plaxo of Google News throws up three references to the dangers associated with Plaxo and phishing, one to Plaxo and privacy and nine neutral references in passing.)

This week’s column – What Price Privacy?

This week’s Loose Wire column is about Gmail, Plaxo and privacy:

PRIVACY IS ONE OF those things you either obsess over, or don’t see what all the fuss is about. You’re either someone who gets indignant when a shop assistant asks you for your home address at the checkout, or you’re not. You either hate the idea that your credit card is a mine of information about your shopping habits, or you couldn’t care less.

This debate is timeless, but the Internet and in particular two recent new phenomena have brought it into focus. The first is a crop of on-line networking services that range from automatically updating your contacts’ details, such as Plaxo Inc.’s address-book software to networking Web sites like Friendster and LinkedIn, which allow you to hook up with other users with similar tastes or business interests on-line. The other phenomenon is something called Gmail, the soon-to-be-launched e-mail service from the soon-to-be-listed search-engine company Google.

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.