Plaxo As A Service Is Broken
Category: Smartphones, Social Networking
I've been a Plaxo user since the service was introduced in 2002. Back then, the service only synchronized address books from POP3 or Exchange Accounts. Soon after that, it added Calendar Sync and I instantly fell in love with it. It was free, and it brought my business and personal contacts and calendar into a single place that could sync with my PDA or smartphone. This "one size fits all" approach brought a great deal of order to my world, as all of my PIM data stuck with me, no matter where I was.
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In August 2009, Plaxo began charging for its sync services. Fortunately for me, I was still getting updates to my PIM info either by grandfathering or some obscure sync bug. That changed in March 2011 when Plaxo introduced Personal Assistant, a service that scoured not only its own database for address book updates, but external, online sources and directories and brought those updates in automatically. If you purchase both Personal Assistant and Platinum Sync, the premium version of Plaxo, you'll spend $120 a year on it.
This year, I purchased both. It was becoming clear that my 1200-plus contacts were outdated, and I wanted to insure that I had all of the latest info without having to use Plaxo's antiquated "please click this link and update your contact info for me" spam message. That process had gotten me into a bit of trouble in the past, and sending out an email bomb like that just isn't quite cricket. So, I purchased both products and anticipated being as satisfied as I was in the past.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. There are a few issues:
- Times have changed. Back in the day, network admins and IT security types weren't as diligent as they are now. Services like Plaxo could sync with specific endpoints without having the traffic blocked at a company's firewall. Now, unless you have special permission, the traffic between you and Plaxo probably won't flow through your company's firewall. You can blame this on the Melissa virus guy.
- Problems synching in a virtual machine (VM). I'm a Mac convert. However, I am so entrenched in Microsoft Office, specifically Outlook, that trying to get me out of it into another mail client is a waste of time. I didn't like Outlook 2011 for Mac. Instead, I chose to install Parallels Desktop and install Office 2010 for Windows there. That got me into Outlook, but I noticed that Outlook seems to have issues communicating with Plaxo's synchronization services from inside the VM. I have no trouble communicating with any other external service in the virtual machine, only Plaxo. To add insult to injury, talking to Plaxo customer support has been a complete waste of time. They haven't the slightest idea how to address my problem and don't seem that interested, either.
- Plaxo's calendar can't handle changes to recurring appointments. This is probably the biggest problem I've discovered with Plaxo. Historically, I've never had any issues with Plaxo synchronizing my calendar. Changes to any and all appointments, regardless of type, have synchronized to any and all endpoints throughout every revision of both Plaxo and Outlook--until now. After an hour of troubleshooting, the Plaxo customer support rep was able to confirm that although recurring appointments would sync, changes to any single instance would not. For example, if you have a standing meeting at 9 a.m. every day and cancel or reschedule a single instance of it, Plaxo ignores the synchronized change.
- Plaxo's Platinum Sync is not live and in real time. Plaxo describes PlatinumSync as "live, 2-way and in real time." This is only partially accurate. PlatinumSync will sync data from your sync point and Plaxo's online data store. It is not, however, live and in real time. Live and real-time sync implies data is pushed between Plaxo and all of your sync points. If I make a change to any data outside of Plaxo, Plaxo will not immediately sync the data from the outside in. It must initiate its sync, and then aggregate the data. If, for example, I make a change to my Google Apps contact list or calendar, that change will not be reflected in Plaxo (or any other online sync point) until Plaxo initiates PlatinumSync on its own internal sync schedule, and it could be hours before that sync action is initiated. The sync can be manually initiated, by an end user on the Plaxo Web site, but that's not live and it's not real-time.
I was able to get my Plaxo support rep to see the behavior I was describing, but he would not admit that it was a problem. The best I could get him to do was to submit an "enhancement request." Unfortunately, this completely breaks the Plaxo service and business model. Plaxo is a data hub for PIM information. It should sync the information between mapped folders, period. Plaxo isn't a place where I'm going to go and manage a calendar and address book. I'm going to do that at my endpoints with the tools I'm familiar with.
IT consumerization isn't just about bringing your smartphone or iPad to work. It's about bringing the tools you need to the place you need them. Plaxo's sync services are clearly broken; and in my opinion the recurring appointment issue and the fact that PlatinumSync is not live and in real time contradicts their stated claims for the service. The company needs to get it together, and get the problems fixed before it ventures into other possible revenue paths.
At this point, without a resolution to my issues, it's doubtful Plaxo will get my business in 2012--and it shouldn't get yours, either.
Based in Chicago, Chris is a senior IT consultant. He serves BYTE as a Contributing Editor. Follow Chris on Twitter at @chrisspera and email him at chris@BYTE.com.