One of my new favourite services on the social web is Plaxo’s Pulse. Plaxo is one of the few companies that seems to be putting out updates every few days. I have had the rare experience of asking for a feature only to be told that it is there already, baked into the service (not that I am the most attentive of users, mind you). Anyway, Plaxo announced a new public profile for users which is developed using Google’s new Social Graph API. One of the things that struck me about my updated profile on Plaxo is its similarity to my Facebook profile, at least in terms of it structure and appearance. Here is my Plaxo profile:
And here is my Facebook profile page:
There is an obvious similarity between the two and aside from a couple layout issues, the real difference between the two is that there is more content and more applications on my Facebook profile, thanks to the Facebook application platform. I don’t think this status quo will persist too long because Plaxo is part of Google’s Open Social initiative so it is really only a matter of time before I should be able to start adding Open Social widgets/gadgets/thingies to my Plaxo profile.
So one question that comes to mind is whether Plaxo is hard at work mimicking Facebook or whether Joseph and the lads are aiming for something more? The one big thing about Facebook that detracts from it, at least for me, is that I have to jump through a couple hoops to get some of my content imported into my profile and to create a lifestream in my Facebook profile as opposed to a steady stream of application updates. I don’t use many of the native Facebook services like its photo sharing service or notes for my blogging mainly because that stuff is all intended to be used in-house. Sure there are feeds for certain items that I can publish and pass around to my friends but the portability of my Facebook lifestream is pretty limited.
Plaxo, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. Plaxo doesn’t dictate to me which services I have to use to share my photos or blog posts in my and the public activity stream (aka my Plaxo “news feed”). Instead Plaxo gives me the opportunity to basically add anything with an RSS feed and then decide who gets to see it (business contacts, friends, family, specific groups etc). It is also worth mentioning that Plaxo enables users to create distinct personal and professional profiles which is sorely missing in Facebook. This is what the Plaxo activity stream looks like from my perspective (like Facebook it depends on who I am connected with):
By comparison, here is my Facebook news feed:
Again there are similarities but one of the main differences is that the Plaxo activity stream/news feed/public stream takes advantage of incoming feeds and streams to populate it and uses finer controls over who gets to see what to ensure that incoming content is more relevant to the person seeing it and privacy is respected (items shared with friends are only shared with friends, they don’t appear in the public stream). I am not a fan of the relatively closed system Facebook is to me. The recent hubbub over Scoble and the Plaxo script he ran serves as a reminder that despite the apparently open nature of the Facebook application platform (especially with recent reports about Facebook opening up even more), I am still forced to use approved Facebook services and not the services I am using anyway (at least not directly).
This is pretty much where the similarities end. It is also important to look at the bigger picture and at what Facebook and Plaxo offer holistically. From Facebook’s perspective, what you get is a profile and the ability to connect to other Facebook users as well as to take advantage of the Facebook applications. It is all about the Facebook experience. The way I see Plaxo, it is a facilitator and not your entire social ecosystem. Plaxo began with the ability to synchronise your address book and keep up to date with your Plaxo contacts’ changes in their address and contact information. Since adding Pulse to the mix the whole Plaxo experience opens up completely and becomes more of a base for your social experience. Plaxo doesn’t make any claims to own your information and your content (explicitly or implicitly) but rather seeks to facilitate your sharing of that information with the people you choose to connect to.
To me, my address book is the focal point of my social experience on the Web and this is borne out whenever I see a service invite me to tap into my address book to find my friends and contacts. Plaxo didn’t add that service after establishing the social network, it started with that and the social network is an overlay on top of my address book. What I really like about my Plaxo profile is that I can comfortably use that as my “home page” because it contains my public contact information as well as a sample of what I am doing. My Facebook profile also has my contact details but I want to be able to present that information in an uncluttered environment and also present the appropriate information to different groups of people. With Plaxo I can show personal information to my friends and family and my business info to my business contacts. I like being able to do that.
So while there are similarities between Plaxo Pulse and Facebook at some level, I don’t see Pulse as a Facebook clone but rather an illustration of what Facebook just can’t be for me – a really useful and fun service that appropriate in multiple contexts, not to mention more open and flexible. Now all I need to do is figure out how to expand Pulse’s functionality with OpenSocial …