Innovation: Plaxo Says Customers ARE in Charge of Their Data

Yesterday, Plaxo launched its new online data aggregator. Pulse let’s you move your data from one platform to another. Joseph Smarr and John McCrea of Plaxo talked about the technology and portability on the Scoble Show v/blog (25’+ minutes). While the technical speak and passion around microformating eluded me, one immediate benefit is that with this product the person in charge of you data is, well you.

The idea behind Plaxo is so obvious you'd think someone would have done it long ago. Plaxo helps you round up all that data you've been entering in your various social networks move it around as you wish. Why should you be forced to keep each of these updated on their own? In other words, you can move your contacts, calendar information, and other data out of Outlook for example, onto other platforms like Google, Yahoo, even your cell phone, and other applications like social networks.

This may sound a bit too advanced for you from the technical side. It is for me. Philosophically this is a giant step in the right direction – the one pointing to the customer being in charge. Let’s look at an example to bring the concept home. Farhad Manjoo on the Machinist Tech Blog writes the reason why he’s not moving from Netflix to Blockbuster, even though he’s been quite sold on the latter:

But the main reason I'm sticking with Netflix is much simpler: I can't leave. Over the years at Netflix, I've built up a queue of 360 movies, and I've rated nearly 700. These ratings are important to me; they represent a history of my movie watching, and I've spent many cumulative hours compiling them. I've long thought of these ratings as my own data — data that I have the rights over — but according to Netflix, I'm not allowed to take them with me when I leave. The only way to transfer my queue and my ratings from Netflix to Blockbuster — and from Blockbuster to Netflix — is by hand: I've got to manually redo everything, representatives of both services told me.

In other words, his data is not his; it’s locked inside the company’s Web site. "The data that people put into Netflix is ‘proprietary’ information," says Steve Swasey, a spokesman for Netflix. Later in his post, Manjoo shares that Blockbuster shares the same practice. The idea is that you’ve enjoyed the ride, so to speak, so why would you want your money back?

Help me understand here, the logic seems to escape me. You paid for the movies; all you did was offer the company a review gratis. You, the customer, helped them, the company, rank its movies by writing a comment. What if the company decided to trust its customers with their own data? What do you think would happen? What would you like to happen?

This is an important point to continue the trend towards a true conversation with customers. Who owns your data?

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA •

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