If you have perused my blog, you probably get the sense that I am the type of person who will try just about any software application if it is easy to use and useful. Well, that is in fact the case. I have been playing with a lot of new tools designed to help end users keep their contact databases up-to-date or to get more value from the contacts that they or their colleagues have. I definitely believe that these tools are the future of contact management, but my early experience with these tools has unearthened some interested information about the value that others see in these products.
I have used three products, GoodContacts, Plaxo, and Spoke in the past few months. Most of these products work in the same way. You upload a copy of your contacts to a server managed by one of the aforementioned companies. There is usually a desktop agent that synchronizes all changes made to contacts. The server then allows you to send out contact update requests to all of the people in your Contacts database. The service wil then take care of collecting the replies from your friends and business associates and will pass the updates down to your local contact management program. Because most of these products are well-integrated with Microsoft Outlook, it makes it fairly easy to keep your contact database up to date with little effort on your part.
Overall, I would say that all of the products work well and have their relative strengths and weaknesses. More interesting than the products themselves have been the feedback that I have gotten from my friends and business colleagues. By and large, the responses fall into three categories:
1. Where do I sign up? There is a subset of people on the Internet, including me, who are willing to try and sign up for just about anything. This crop of people (roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of my friends and business associates) will sign up for any product that looks remotely interesting.
2. Is this spam? With the many email-borne worms and viruses traversing the Internet, many users have become skeptical of any mass email that is looking to collect information from them or otherwise touch their Outlook data. Consequently, somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of my colleagues either write me back to ask “is this spam?” or simply send me their contact information directly without replying to the inquiry from the program. In this era of clever spam and malware, this seems like a reasonable, conservative response.
3. No comment The remainder of people simply don’t respond, either because they disregard the message or just choose not to reply for some other reason.
I am not sure how typical my friends and colleagues are, but I suspect that they are fairly representative as they include people from a wide variety of businesses, locations, and levels of technical acumen.