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Comcast scoops up Plaxo: good move

In a move that surprises few people, Plaxo is being acquired. The surprise - at least for some - is that it is Comcast and not one of the usual suspects of Facebook or Google.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

In a move that surprises few people, Plaxo is being acquired. The surprise - at least for some - is that it is Comcast and not one of the usual suspects of Facebook or Google. Comcast is Plaxo's biggest partner and provides hosting for all Comcast email subscriber address books. This makes the deal a natural fit for an entertainment and media company that's looking for a way to socialize its multiple offerings.

According to Ben Golub, Plaxo's CEO:

Joining forces with Comcast is a real win for our customers, our investors, and our employees. Comcast has an exciting vision to bring the social media experience to mainstream consumers. Together, we will be able to help users connect with all the people they care about, across all of the devices they use, with all the media they love to consume, create, and share. This is also great news for the Internet industry at large, where Plaxo has been – and will continue to be – a strong advocate for opening up the Social Web.

Plaxo will remain an independent operation in Silicon Valley, reporting into Comcast Interactive Media, which is a division of Comcast that develops and operates Internet businesses focused on entertainment, information and communication. All of our 50 employees will continue to innovate on and grow both our networked address book service and our next-generation social network, Pulse. And through additional integration projects with Comcast, we’ll be able to take these services to a lot more users and places than we could on our own. We are developing an exciting roadmap with Comcast that includes socially enabling the media experience in places such as Comcast’s high traffic portal (Comcast.net),CIM’s popular interactive entertainment properties (such as Fancast and Fandango), and the television.

Dan Farber puts meat on the facts:

It's a smart move by Comcast, which can enhance the user experience across its 14 million high-speed Internet subscribers, 3 million voice customers, and 24.2 million cable subscribers.

In one of his shortest blog posts ever, Jeff Nolan says:

This totally makes sense.

Here's why:

  • Social computing technologies have already made headline grabbing inroads into the business to consumer space with Facebook (advertising) and Jive (customer outreach) offering two examples. It is logical to assume that other related technologies will do the same. Plaxo's pulse provides Comcast with immediate access to the social behavior of Plaxo's 1.5 million subscribers, allowing it a depth of reach within that customer base that outstrips anything else that may be on the block.
  • Comcast gets the opportunity to develop technologies that allow it to provide a unified experience to all its users although as Dan correctly points out:

...creating a user interface that can make sense out of all the content choices and devices will be even more difficult than creating a universal remote that a mere mortal could program and use.

  • Adding in the ability to share 'things you like' with others in your network opens the door for additional content based advertising to consumers but also in the longer term  to business users. Those offerings might include educational pay to view programming which would command a higher per view dollar value than a pure advertising play.

It is interesting to note that when Google announced FriendConnect, Robert Scoble caught Plaxo on Qik enthusing about FriendConnect, arguing this is another step in opening up the social graph. Marshall Kirkpatrick disagrees, viewing FriendConnect as something that 'strangles the social.' Even so, Comcast must view such initiatives as highly attractive. Google will be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting and it can sit back and see how things pan out. The extent to which FriendConnect raises an advertising conflict has yet to be seen but even so, the potential for Comcast/Plaxo to reach into Google's extended social graph is there. Probably for free.

This move signals another step in the blurring of the lines between the social graph and media. How long might it be before a media giant decides to take a tilt at FriendFeed or more usefully AlertThingy? You can argue these services do nothing that Plaxo cannot do or that it is easy to replicate such services. Perhaps. But when something is already pre-built then why bother? They already 'know' our email addresses which could readily be ported to Plaxo.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but TechCrunch's Mike Arrington speculates it to be in the $150-170 million range.

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