Plaxo aims to turn electronic address book into social network

Its Pulse technology allows users to pull in 'people feeds'

Plaxo Inc., which until now has focused on its electronic address book application, announced plans today to allow users to receive feeds of content created at sites like YouTube and MySpace by their friends and family.

Instead of the traditional "walled garden" approach used by popular sites like Facebook and MySpace -- requiring users to have an account before accessing information created and posted to the social network -- Plaxo is launching Pulse, a social network that allows users to pull in "people feeds." The feeds come via subscriptions to content that's been produced by the people in their electronic address books.

For example, a user could opt to share Amazon.com wish lists with family members, bookmarking information at Del.icio.us with business associates and stories contributed to news ranking site Digg.com with friends, said John McCrea, Plaxo's vice president of marketing.

"[Pulse is] a true social network built up from your address book to enable you to have richer connections with the people you really know and care about," McCrea said. "It brings your address book to life and enables the selective sharing of content and the natural spawning of real conversations. The content streams coming from those people ... just show up in your Pulse."

The list of sites from which Pulse is aggregating content through a user's address book includes Amazon.com, AOL Pictures, Del.icio.us, Digg, Flickr, Jaiku, Last.fm, LiveJournal, MySpace, Picasa, Pownce, SmugMug, Tumblr, Twitter, Webshots, Windows Live Spaces, Xanga, Yahoo 360, Yelp and YouTube.

"We really see ourselves as the Switzerland of the social Web, and we want to be an open tool that integrates naturally with ... Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Amazon, Yelp and MySpace," McCrea added. "We want to mash up with all of them and do that in a way that puts the user at the center and in control of their identity and their content."

The notion of Pulse -- and its shift away from the walled-garden approach -- rippled through the blogosphere, with some bloggers noting that Plaxo has its sights set on current Web 2.0 darling Facebook.

Pate Cashmore, for example, blogged at his social computing Web site that with Pulse, "you own your own data, you can export it elsewhere and you're in control -- not the platform provider. (Facebook, by contrast, uses a locked down form of so-called openness.) Plaxo is taking the obvious next step beyond what Facebook is doing: identity aggregation without lock-in."

In addition, blogger Robert Scoble also noted that Pulse will provide users with more control than Facebook when it comes to who can access the social content they create.

"Facebook isn't controllable," Scoble wrote. "You can't really have two groups of friends. One group that sees your drunken college frat photos and another group that sees you making presentations to your board of directors."

However, he noted that this "closed" setup allows Facebook to have 10% more content than the other networks. "Sorry, Facebook already has momentum and a coolness about it that Plaxo doesn't exude," he added on the blog.

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