Soocial Enters the “Deep End of the Data Portability Pool”

[Disclosure/reminder: I head up marketing for Plaxo.]

In a piece not-so-flattering to Plaxo over at TechCrunch (it’s okay, I’ve developed a thick skin), Erick Schonfeld shined a spotlight on the invite-only beta launch of a new “address book sync” startup from the Netherlands, Soocial. According to the post and the company’s website, they’ve developed a multi-way, automated sync solution for address books, very much like a piece of functionality which is a core part of the Plaxo solution.

This blog, dedicated to the emergence of the open Social Web, with users owning their data and having the freedom to take it with them between all tools and services, applauds the arrival of Soocial. And, as someone who has worked at Plaxo for just over two years, I also welcome them to what I call the “deep end of the data portability pool.”

What do I mean by that? Automated, multi-way addess book sync is the Holy Grail of data portability. When it works flawlessly, it is damn-near magic. Make a change in any one tool, and it automatically shows up in all the others. Your hard drive crashes? Not a problem; there’s a copy in the cloud.

But behind this “magic” is some of the hardest work in the software business. Why? Rock solid APIs are few and far between for the various tools, and in the absence of such APIs, any company that wants to do sync has to jump through a bunch of technical hoops to make sync work at all. Oh, and if in jumping through such hoops, something goes a little bit wrong? There is Hell to pay. Sync is an unforgiving master. Mess up a person’s address book (in all the tools they use), and you may lose that customer forever.

Soocial claims to sync with just about everything out there, from mobile phones, to the Mac, to GMail, but there’s a gaping hole in their coverage for launch: Microsoft Outlook. Oh, the tales that could be told about the fine art of syncing flawlessly with this ubiquitous tool! Colleagues at Soocial, we know the pain. (Vocabulary word: “thunking.”)

But, no matter, this is great news all around. More choices in the market is always good. Users love it, and vendors are forced to make their offerings better, and to double-down on differentiation. It will be interesting to see if Soocial can overcome some their current scalability issues and round out the offering with a high-quality Outlook sync (and unveil a business model; current offering is free).

Data portability remains really hard work; let’s hope that the industry’s collective efforts make all this simple, easy, and universal!

3 thoughts on “Soocial Enters the “Deep End of the Data Portability Pool”

  1. Hi John, thanks for your kind words of encouragement. We have found out the hard way – just as you have I suppose – that the “magic” you describe is a very hard problem.

    And yes we are working on Outlook, and doing our best to provide part of what we can in the Data portability puzzle.

    A quick question – would you still view contact syncing still as the core business of Plaxo or has it become more aggregating social data by way of Plaxo Pulse?

  2. LouN says:

    [Disclosure/reminder: I work for Nexthaus, who makes sync clients for mobile devices]

    I think one of the difficulties that all the startups fail to realize, is that building clients for 5+ different platforms can be tough. Everyone says “we support 5 trillion phones”,(which really means “Nokia” phones and a few others, phones being the key word though) The smartphones are the real in-demand devices for anyone serious about syncing information, and the hardest to develop. All have their own platform, and quirks.

    It usually seems to start with an announcement about how a ton of phones are supported (Nokias), and a “coming soon” for blackberry, palm, windows mobile, iphone, and maybe android. That coming soon never materializes, because developing clients for those platforms turns out to be a lot tougher than was originally assumed by the development team. (Keep in mind, Nokias and the like have a built in sync client, which is why everyone says they support them.)

    I will speculate the conversation among the developers goes something like this (Warning: Geek talk ahead):

    “There are open source sync clients for these platforms, let’s use those!” “yeah good idea, i know a little bit of Programming Language X, I should be able to modify it for our needs.”

    Then leading to:

    “Oh wait, this open source stuff isn’t actually at the level we need it to be. There is a lot still missing, and I don’t know a lot about Programming Language X, it will take me forever”

    And finally:

    “Ok well, we can work on other stuff until the open source guys fix it.”

    It’s tough to find the skillsets required to hit all the major smartphone platforms on what are usually small startup teams.

    Anyhow, it will be interesting to see if soocial falls into the same trap.

    Lou

  3. therealmccrea says:

    Stefan,

    In a word, “Yes.” Our focus all along has been on people connected with the people they know and care about. Our networked address book provides the foundation, and syncing is a core part of that offering. Pulse brings that address book to life. In many ways, we’ve expanded the notion of sync: data sync is at the core, then there is “people sync” which is the network effect in which each member keeps their own contact info up-to-date, and more broadly, Pulse “syncs” content from 40 different services.

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