An Important Milestone at Plaxo

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts here and so I thought I’d give you a glipse in what I’ve been up to the past 9 months or so in my new gig at Plaxo. Here’s a copy of what I wrote up on the Plaxo Blog:

An important milestone – and it’s only the beginning!

This week’s relaunch of Plaxo and introduction of Plaxo Personal Assistant marks an important milestone for our company, and I hope a key signal to you that we’re focused on building always accurate, up to date contact list – accessible wherever and whenever you need it.

Our CEO Justin Miller has said, “Plaxo is back and we’ve got a relentless focus on the address book,” and we are determined to solve the two customer pain points Plaxo was founded in 2002 to address:

  1. Contacts scattered across multiple devices, services
  2. Maintaining up-to-date address book info

The Plaxo Personal Assistant goes after that second problem with updates sourced by publicly available information and for our Plaxo Basic users we’ve also recently added contact card sharing. As for problem #1 we’ve reinvested in Plaxo Platinum Sync and made our mobile sync apps all free.

For a glimpse into our mission here at Plaxo check out this 60 second video.

To give you a sense of the scale of our efforts, we’ve reviewed 3 billion contacts in Plaxo’s Cassandra database, compared them with publicly available data sources, and identified approximately 600 million unique people with contact info—as a comparison the White Pages, which powers the Hiya contact management system, claims 200 million. It’s this massive scale that enables us to make suggestions that our customer’s report is correct about 92% of the time.

While this week’s news marks a big step forward in solving the problems above we’re far from done and you should expect a regular cadence of additional improvements as we continue to listen to your feedback.

The smart address book category is finally starting to see some focus, maturity, and a healthy dose of competition, which has sparked an unprecedented era of innovation. We expect to play a leadership role as this space continues to grow and evolve.

Why Design Matters – P&G

I recently was invited to speak at P&G headquarters in Ohio on “Why Design Matters”. It was a leadership summit of their Global Business Services division which supports all the brands and employees worldwide. For me it was a great chance to reflect on what aspects I see as critical to design and what can get in the way.

View more presentations from Preston Smalley on Slideshare.

What’s on my iPhone

As a product design guy, I try out a lot of iPhone apps however the list of apps I actually use everyday is quite small. To keep things interesting I’ll skip built-in apps like Mail, Phone, and Calendar to focus on 3rd Party apps (especially appropriate as most expect Apple to hit the 1 billion downloaded milestone today).

  1. Facebook App – I find the user experience better than the web version as it seems to get at the essence of enabling me to keep up with what’s going on in my friends lives. It avoids all apps, advertising, and modes that plague the web version.
    What’s missing:
    Enabling me to phone my friends, sync with my phone contacts, and the ability to leverage my location to find my friends. 5/11 Update: All there now.
  2. New York Times App – First, I’m a NYT junkie and I love that I can get my fix while on the go. They’ve done a great job extending the NYT brand into the app and formating the stories for the form factor.
    What’s missing: After several updates it’s still far too unstable. With OS 3.0 I hope they enable the day’s stories to be pushed down to my phone everyday at 5AM—it’s charging and on wi-fi, why not? Finally, I’d like to be able to tweet stories directly from the app.
  3. App – As we all tighten out belts, I find it extraordinarily useful to have the pulse of my balance sheet and cash flow on a regular basis. As a mobile extension of the web service, it does a good job summarizing where my money’s coming and going as well as showing me “alerts” when irregular events occur such as a large purchase.
    What’s missing: I’d like to be able to dig into changes in my 401K (chart of how it’s trending, which holdings are up/down), be able to re-categorize transactions, and “predict” my cash flow out a couple months based on past data and budgets. 5/11 Update: Many added.
    12/09 Update: The latest app adds re categorization.
  4. eBay App – I’m glad that with the 1.2 version of the app we’ve finally got a stable version of the buyer experience. I can check on items I’m watching, bid or buy items, as well as do quick price check searches.
    What’s missing:
    Disclosure: the design for this app is on my team so you’ll have to settle for… “stay tuned” 🙂 5/11 Update: While I’m no longer at eBay, the addition of mobile selling and RedLaser is great!
  5. Google App – Enables me to search the web and my contacts quickly—even allowing voice search.
    What’s missing: It needs to search more things on my phone, especially my email. I’d also like the app to expand on results from certain sources (e.g. wikipedia entries) similar to Yahoo Search Monkey so that I don’t have to goto the page. Safari browsing should be built into the app so that it doesn’t need to be separately launched.
  6. Dropbox App (added 02/10) – Syncs my files across both my Mac and PC as well as making them available in the cloud which I can access via the web or thru this iPhone app. Now no matter where I am I can access my key files.
    What’s missing: Search 5/11 Update: Now added.
  7. Twitter App (added 05/11) – Follow the latest news from influencers in my industry. I also use the search feature to stay up-to-date on what people are saying about Plaxo and jump in on the conversation.
    What’s missing: Ability to integrate with my account and rank the “search” feature by the influence level of the tweeter.
  8. HipChat App (added 05/11) — An instant messaging client based in the cloud used at Plaxo. It allows you to stay in touch with your co-workers easily and quickly. I receive a push alert any time a message is sent to me.
    What’s missing: I’d like to be able to look back further in time and be signed in on both my phone and my desktop client.
  9. Skyfire App (added 05/11) – A better web browser (than Safari) for your phone. About 70% of the time I have a page not work in Safari it works here.
    What’s missing: Ability to make it the default browser for the phone (Apple’s problem) and making it work with more websites.
  10. Plaxo App (added 05/11) – Okay, I’m biased. But seriously it syncs your contacts over-the-air with the Plaxo cloud which in my case is connected to my Mac, Gmail, and my iPad.
    What’s missing: You’ll just have to wait and see… 🙂

What apps would I like to put on my home page but just aren’t available?

LinkedIn App – The current 1.0 app misses the point and tries to copy Facebook with a news feed approach. What I want is an app that replaces my built-in Contacts app with rich information about everyone I talk with everyday (role, history of previous calls/sms/emails, names for their spouse and kids). When I’m networking with new people, I want to be able to exchange business cards wirelessly (leverage OS 3.0 bonjour). I should be able to look up LinkedIn profiles using just a name and phone number. Finally, I’d like the app to remind me to follow up with key contacts I want to stay in touch with when it’s been too long.
12/09 Update: The 3.0 version of this app shows the LinkedIn Product team is commited to building a solid app. They added the biz card exchange feature and many key features from the website.

Skype App – The current 1.0 app is helpful (especially when traveling to make cheap VoIP calls) but is held back by two key limitations: lack of push events and VoIP only over WiFi. Time will tell if the carriers dial-back on the 3G limitation, but OS 3.0 will enable the Skype app to tell me if someone’s sending me an IM or trying to call me—a huge breakthru.
05/11 Update: Adding VoIP was a big win and I’m now a fan.

TomTom App – My TomTom 300 device is dear friend of mine and navigated me all over Italy. That said, I would part with it if TomTom could provide me with Turn-by-Turn voice directions, rerouting, and offline maps (thus enabling it work anywhere with GPS). It looks like OS 3.0 will enable this now it’s just up to TomTom to come thru with their long rumored app. I’d pay $75 for this one and would sell my device on eBay.
05/11 Update: Love the app and use it EVERYDAY. While it’s pricey ($50 + $20 for traffic) it gets me home 10-15 minutes faster than I would otherwise by finding the best route “right now” based on traffic.

PowerPoint App with Dongle – This one’s simple, I’d like to be able to connect my phone to an LCD projector via a dongle and project a presentation. Why bring a powerful laptop when a simple device like my phone can do the job. This doesn’t have to be built by Microsoft and perhaps the Slideshare or Air Sharing folks might come out with it first—or better yet a micro-projector that does it all.

Fitbit App – I’m on the waiting list for the first fitbit exercise/sleep device now due out early this summer. What would make this experience one better is if I could track what I eat directly on my phone without having to remember later when I get to my computer. It also could show me a summary of key stats (like Mint) which would be interesting to check-in with daily (e.g. how did I sleep last night?).
12/09 Update: I got my FitBit in Nov and after 2 weeks returned it. It didn’t offer much analysis and the sleep tracking feature was not very accurate. Good idea but mediocre execution.

What apps do you use everyday? What apps do you think are missing?

Designers… Move to California!

A couple year’s back I commented about the booming job market for interaction designers in the Bay Area. As I try and build out my design team, I’m now acutely aware that the job market is not only as hot as it was in late 2005, it’s actually hotter.

Expansion of Interaction Design Positions in the Bay Area (500)

As you can tell from the above chart, the demand for Interaction Designers has actually reached an all time high since I started tracking this in 2003 at 113 open positions in March 2007. The shear number of open positions means that the supply is unable to meet the demand—causing designers to move between companies but no real progress.

Therefore if you’re a great designer and have always wanted to move to California, let me know… or contact any of the many firms seeking people like you. As a design community, I’d love to meet this demand and show the world what can be accomplished.

Update 4/19: David on Signal vs. Noise spotted a similar rise in competition for talent. His take on it is based on the rise of Recruiting Spam, which I frankly am also growing annoyed with as well.