The Unintentional Narcissism of Plaxo

Plaxo is beginning to irritate people again. Now it’s David Weinberger, who is back to hating Plaxo:

Today I hate it again. I got an update notice from someone and noticed that my own info was out of date. So I took the seemingly innocuous step of updating my phone number.

Lo and behold, Plaxo apparently took that as a command to send mail to everyone in my address book (actually, I don’t know whose address book) that I have new info that they simply must attend to. I am, I seem, an inadvertent Plaxo spammer and unintentional narcissist.

What’s interesting here is the thread that follows: The tireless Stacy Martin, Plaxo’s privacy officer, jumps into the fray to try to explain what has happened. I don’t envy Stacy’s job: While Plaxo may not mean to be intrusive, and in David’s case didn’t behave quite as badly as he’d originally suspected, it clearly hasn’t fully addressed the issues that were irritating users two years ago.

The crucial thing here, I think, is not so much privacy of data as giving the user full control over how they present themselves to others. I get several requests from Plaxo users every month, and I ignore all of them. But how many of those requests are sent with the full knowledge and understanding of the user? Not many, I suspect. These folk’s public image — how they appear to all their contacts — is being largely determined by a piece of software.

Pretty much everyone is going to have in their contact database a range of folk from close friends to important sources you’re careful not to overburden with casual contact. What you don’t want a contact updater to be doing is to start sending out emails on your behalf without you being in full and easily comprehensible control. If someone like David can’t figure out the process and ends up feeling like an “unintentional narcissist”, what chance do the rest of us have?

Plaxo Gets A Pounding

It seems Plaxo has been given a bit of a drubbing at the PC Forum.

Jason Calacanis of thespamweblog reports about how Plaxo’s Tim Koogle has been hit with questions about the company’s concealed business model, its intrusiveness, and why people should trust Plaxo, or the future owner of Plaxo. People even hissed when Plaxo was mentioned during Tim Koogle’s introduction.

But a poll of the audience revealed the software’s most obvious problem: It looks and feels like spam. Asked how many people had erased Plaxo requests almost everyone raised their hand, Jason writes. When asked if they had deleted more then 10 almost everyone kept their hands up. “Not a shock, and it is certainly not spam—but it sure feels like it to people,” Jason concludes.

More on Tim Koogle’s reception here, along with a response from the tireless Stacy Martin, whose job as ‘Plaxo Privacy Officer’ must have sounded a lot easier than it has turned out. Stacy reports that Plaxo will be adding a feature to address one of the biggest turnoffs: That even if you answer one ‘contact update request’, you’ll still get more.

I’m (slowly) building a resource on Plaxo issues here.