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Web 3.0: PeopleID, and Plaxo

Posted on Friday, Sep 14th 2007

While we are on the topic of PlaceID and PeopleID, I should tell you about my recent visit with Plaxo’s CEO Ben Golub, and VP of Marketing John McCrea. Ben Golub was, prior to Plaxo, the CMO of Verisign. Ben’s first Silicon Valley job was cutting apricots in an orchard which was paved over to build the Apple Computer headquarters.

Plaxo’s stated mission is to become the platform that keeps people connected to everyone they care about across the social web. They hope, in some not too distant future, to become a central repository of people’s contact data, so that if I know you, and you have moved, and Plaxo knows that I know you, your movements are going to be updated on my addressbook on Plaxo, and propagated throughout the other addressbooks like my PDA, Outlook, as well as, hold your breath – the social web.

In fact, Plaxo wants to redo the social web as a consumer play now, and I get the sense that Mike Moritz, having missed out on Facebook AND MySpace, wants to take a crack at Social Networking. I came away thoroughly unconvinced about Plaxo’s social networking strategy. Besides telling me that they will do it right and everyone else is doing it wrong, I got no real sense of a vision for next generation social media.

Plaxo’s second business is a carrier business, whereby, it has signed up Comcast to become the address book repository for all of Comcast’s Triple Play customers. Other carriers are evaluating Plaxo, versus each having their own Plaxo-like service. Plaxo would like to be Switzerland, offer interoperability, and a central, global address book.

The company has so far raised $28 Million in four rounds, from Sequoia & Ram Shriram (Series A; 3/02, 11/02; $3.8M @ $7.5M post), Globespan Capital (Series B; 7/03; $8.5M @ $33.5M post), Cisco (Series C; 4/04; $7M @ $64M post), and DAG (Series D;
8/06; $9M @ $122M).

The only traction data that I was able to extract out of Ben was that Plaxo has over 15 Million users. He kept diverting my revenue question to valuation. Well, I just don’t buy the $122 Million valuation number, just as I don’t buy that Facebook is worth $10 Billion, or Geni’s CRV financing round was worth $100 Million. Technorati has tremendous usage, but no business model, and it happens to be imploding at the moment. So I am sitting here, trying to imagine why some sucker paid that kind of valuation for the company!

And it doesn’t even do PeopleID, which, if it did, might justify that valuation.

I did find one compelling nugget in Plaxo’s strategy. I couldn’t resist throwing off my journalist hat, and putting on the consultant one at the end, and told Ben, that if he could bring together all the Telecom carriers around the world (and Postal Services) and get them to use Plaxo as the central address repository, that would be really cool. REALLY COOL.

This repository, could, indeed, also become the administrator of the PeopleID. Hey Ben, remember Verisign?

Anyway, in a nutshell, while we’re on the topic of PeopleID and PlaceID, I wanted to bring up Plaxo as one of the best positioned
companies to attack the PeopleID problem. In doing so, however, I would seriously advise them to forget the juvenile social media ideas. And focus.

On PeopleID.

This segment is a part in the series : Web 3.0

. More Roll-Ups To Come
. PeopleID, and Plaxo

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I agree regarding your thoughts on needing a system to better unify and identify online identifying information. Rather than a centralized/private project to do this, what are your thoughts on open-source/community-led/standards-driven projects such as OpenID ( and iNames ( Though OpenID is currently designed for authentication, the infrastructure can be extended for the purposes you describe above.

Of course, there are also problems ( with these Identity Management Systems and a more de-centralized and secure framework needs to evolve before this concept of OnePerson-OneIdentity gains wider acceptance.

TandaRaho Friday, September 14, 2007 at 3:19 PM PT

I think the risks and privacy concerns are too high for OpenSource to handle.

Sramana Mitra Friday, September 14, 2007 at 3:44 PM PT

I think you being harsh.

I find the Plaxo “pulse” useful. The circulation of material is limited to the “connections” in the “address book.” Like Linkedin’s updates, it is a way of improving the flow of information between business contacts, family contacts and friends. I think it works well.

Victor Perton Monday, September 17, 2007 at 12:36 AM PT

I think calling their social network plans “juvenile” is a little harsh. They are actually trying to make social networks more open and are encouraging others to do the same and generally working towards facilitating interoperability. I personally like Pulse and think that it has great potential as it is enhanced and improved. Besides, their social network arm does not contradict their peopleID work and from what I here they are working in these areas as well.

Olly S Monday, September 17, 2007 at 2:02 AM PT

I think social networking is almost a necessity in achieving a goal of keeping people connected across the web. Agreed, however, achieving “PeopleID” would be great.

Chris Monday, September 17, 2007 at 11:16 AM PT

Hello Sramana,

I’ve taken the liberty to examine your issue further in depth. While nice in theory, there are several problems you will need to overcome for this to become reality.

The military uses a system similar to the ones in use at FedEx and UPS that makes use of personID and placeID queries. Since sailors, soldiers, and marines have signed on the dotted line waiving their rights, the military can use these systems that query unique identifiers as they please. The system I’ve seen in use has the placeID split into multiple fields, location name, location description, GPS information, and RFID numbers. From those fields one can find a variety of information pertaining to the location and items at or have passed by. The information databases share information downstream to other servers and between these one can in limited fashion find a contact at this place and several pieces of information belonging to this person. The placeID allows one to figure out what items are on location and who it belongs to. This system does have its problems though. This web based query is not very intuitive though. This application is a product of Unisys and incorporates elements of Google Earth, but some of the details regarding arrangement I cannot go into further detail about. You might want to contact those companies for further information.

I see you mentioned Spock, but it merely does a personID search on names found in public records. Unique identifiers such as SSN to tie multiple entries together do exist already, but are not available for public use. The Internal Revenue Service and law enforcement agencies are the only ones that have access to this data.

The placeID is much more feasible since it doesn’t trample all over people’s privacy. For it to work in the manner you want will require a considerable geographical mapping to give the answer to the closest shop that has size 8 Nike cross trainers. Something along the lines of a Maporama or MapQuest direction search from point A to point B. The trick is in your case is to have it set to do an item search first then quantity on hand, and then followed up by a sort by distance from requester.

The problem I see here is standardization of technology, but in the case of the military the big issue is naming conventions not being adhered to by users. Not every company is going to have up-to-date technology that uses RFID tags to track every item in their inventory and are capable of supplying up-to-the-second inventory counts. Human error can cause problems with this idea too. The only company that I’m aware of implementing RFID tags on a mass scale and forcing standardization upstream to its suppliers is Wal-Mart.

Another issue that is a privacy expert’s nightmare is the interlinking of information from multiple sites tied to a personID with an associated underlining unique identifier. For this to work cooperation between the sites’ owners and companies would have to occur. Doubt this will take place at all since the personal information in these databases is worth a considerable chunk of change.

The privacy issue is your biggest stumbling block to multiple sites being tied to a personID. Thinking about it even makes me queasy. Most people will not want their mySpace page tied to their credit record, their public record to a political blog they may write, or where they work tied to a dating service site like eHarmony that they use. I see room for abuse by employers, companies, and less ethical individuals looking to make a quick buck.

I’ll add more in a while. Going to take a look at Wal-Mart’s internals and see where they are sitting in regards to your personID and peopleID.

Brad Friday, September 28, 2007 at 5:44 PM PT