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Plaxo’s open platform

Last week I chatted with Plaxo architect Joseph Smarr about their new OpenID initiative.  Basically, what they've done is implement support for the use of an OpenID as your Plaxo credentials rather than a Plaxo specific account.  Future plans call for them to also become an issuer of OpenID credentials too.  What they're trying to become is a profile provider for OpenID users. 

In addition, they've done work to support micro-formats in Plaxo.  Again, the idea is that you should be able to visit sites and scrape up details like business cards and calendar items into your calendar and into Plaxo.  So, for example, you can now visit my Plaxo profile, for instance, and scrape up my contact information from there.  Similarly, Plaxo subscribers can publish a public calendar in this way. 

This is the transformation of Plaxo from an address-book synchronization tool into an open standards identity supplier for the web.  It's also a tremendous illustration of how to build and monetize a platform business.  Plaxo's evolutionary path looks like this:

  • release a useful free tool to synchronize address books, which millions of people come to know and use.
  • release a set of useful suscription services that leverage that free customer base, and monetize that customer base. 
  • release a platform (in this case, built on open standards) to radically grow that customer base by interoperating with applications providers big and small. 

Plaxo is small compared to some of the web behemoths out there, but they seem to be executing well. They have a great opportunity to become one of the most useful utilities on the programmable web. 

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