Tag Archives: Plaxo

Taking a Tumble

Probably to a general chorus of ‘Oh no, not another thing!’ I’m giving a Tumblelog a try. The wikipedia entry explains the concept pretty well – it is essentially a short-form blog, so the posts will be a mixture of links, pictures, quotes and short text rather than the long-form stuff that I post here.

As a concept it does overlap somewhat with things like the aside posts that I have on here, and my link blog which links to articles I’ve found interesting that have come up in my Google Reader feeds. The difference is that the Tumblelog brings in various other forms, and is useful for linking to items that aren’t in Google Reader where I’ve previously had to fiddle around with to link to.

The Tumblelog can be found at http://tumblr.peat.me.uk, and is also added as a sidebar item to the main page of this site, and comes complete with it’s own RSS feed.

However by far the easiest way to keep up with all the different sites I use is to head over to FriendFeed or Plaxo Pulse, both of which are combining all the various feeds from blogs, link blogs, tumblelogs, pictures and so on into one. You can find my FriendFeed at http://friendfeed.com/rtpeat.

Am I a Lifestream Junkie?

So I’m now trying out a third Lifestream utility – well fourth or fifth if you include the people bar on Flock or the solution I cobbled together using Facebook applications. Thanks to an article on TechCrunch this morning, I’m trying out a beta release of SocialThing! alongside FriendFeed and Plaxo Pulse.

I have to say, I didn’t set out to run three in parallel. I tried out FriendFeed to use as a replacement for the multiple applications on Facebook. The big problem with those was that not all of them updated automatically – thanks to limitations in the applications, some of them often needed a kick to get updates to be registered. FriendFeed takes feeds from all of the sites I use day to day, and posts them eventually into my Facebook feeds. Thanks to the way FriendFeed works – using RSS feeds, plus the vagaries of updates to the Facebook mini-feed it does sometimes take a little while for updates to get through.

The Plaxo Pulse account came as a side effect of my having given Plaxo a go for trying to get my address book and calendar details transferred to home. Again this is using RSS feeds for updates so is a bit slow.

Having said that, whilst both sites bring together all of my own updates, they don’t bring together all my friends updates unless they also sign up to the relevant site. FriendFeed has a couple of contacts, as does Plaxo, but on my people bar on Flock there are massively more people. The other annoyance with Flock is that the people bar is totally independent on each of the different computers that I am running it on.

This is the particular advantage of SocialThing!. Unlike FriendFeed and Plaxo Pulse it isn’t working on RSS feeds – instead, in much the same way as Flock it uses the various API’s provided by the supported sites to link all of your information together. Again as with Flock this limits the number of supported third-party sites, however it does mean that it gives me a complete view of all of my friends in one place without them having to sign up on the SocialThing! site.

SocialThing! have a new little FAQ document which explains the differences between what they are trying to do and FriendFeed. Whilst I can see from the explanation how they’re different, my thought is that to the man on the street the difference is pretty subtle, FriendFeed, SocialThing! and Plaxo Pulse, along with a number of other sites are all doing essentially the same thing, and certainly a good few of them are going to fall by the way side.

Having said that, on initial impressions if SocialThing! can get things into the Facebook mini-feed and also support my blog, that would remove the need for FriendFeed… Equally if FriendFeed can pull in all my friends from various services automatically in the same way as SocialThing! has done, then I could go with FriendFeed – and of course the same applies to Plaxo Pulse. They are all doing slightly different things, which if combined would offer me the solution I wanted. Until then, I guess I’m going to continue looking like a Lifestream Junkie…

Another Sync Option

Things seem to be moving on in the calendar synchronisation arena with the release today of an official Google solution to synchronise Outlook calendars to their online Google Calendar.

In reporting the release, whilst he said it seemed good, Scoble suggested that Plaxo was a better option as it synchronised to a whole raft of other platforms too, rather than just a single platform – he is apparently using Plaxo to link Outlook through to his Mac, and keeping his iPhone in sync too – almost the same setup that I am trying to get going. Now if you’ve read my blog recently, you’ll know that I’ve found a pretty big problem with the Plaxo synchronisation of recurring appointments – my assumption is that Scoble doesn’t have any recurring appointments in his calendar, or that he hasn’t noticed the problem…

Anyway, from my point of view using the new Google Outlook Sync on the PC end and Spanning Sync which a Mac owning friend has recommended on the other would accomplish what I need and get my calendar across, so I thought I’d give the new Google option a go.

Unfortunately the first attempt doesn’t look good. I installed the software onto the PC end, and set it going. The software has a nice little tooltip that keeps you informed as to what it is up to. The number of appointments that it was synchronising seemed about right, and it claimed to have synchronised them – unfortunately when you took a look at the result on the online Google Calendar the view for March only had three appointments of any sort – considering that this month includes Easter, there should be nearer to fifty. My first thought is that maybe there was some sort of problem with the appointments – one of the other tools I’ve tried used to run into problems if certain punctuation characters appeared in any of the text fields of an appointment – but the Google Sync didn’t report any problems.

Suffice to say, as with Plaxo I’d recommend backing everything up, and carefully looking at your calendar if you give it a try – as with any synchronisation solution it has the potential to really mess things up! I guess I might take a look once it goes through a couple of revisions, but for my current task, it’s not really up to the job.

Google Calendar – shared calendars originally uploaded by Spinstah

Plaxo Gotcha’s

I’ve had my first nose around the calendar synchronisation between Outlook and Plaxo – unfortunately the news is not good. It seems that although it supports recurring appointments, it totally ignores exceptions. I tend to use these pretty extensively, for example for regular conference calls with customers, or for church services or events like Choir Practice. Like most recurring events, occasionally these things change – the customer may want to reschedule the call. Outlook can handle this easily – Plaxo doesn’t. Even worse, taking a look through after the clock change day, all my recurring events are apparently time-shifted by an hour… I suspect what I may be doing with my calendar will be using Plaxo to get a reasonably good copy, and then rebuild it by hand in iCal.

Wading into the Calendar/Contact Sync Swamp Again

Ever a glutton for punishment, I’m again wading into the calendar/contact synchronisation swamp in an effort to get my address book and calendar details from the Exchange server at work onto the Mac at home. If you’ve followed my previous expeditions into the swamp you’ll remember that the basic problem is that I need to be able to keep track of both a large number of Church appointments, alongside all the work commitments. I’ve been doing that for the past couple of years using a Dell Axim X50v PDA, hooking up with ActiveSync to the Exchange Server.

There are a couple of things that have pre-empted this current attempt to get it all sorted. Firstly, the only thing I now do on the Dell is now my calendar – web browsing, multimedia, everything else is better handled by my iPod Touch which could handle the calendar too if I wanted to reconfigure it to hook up to a PC. Alongside this, the other big driver is that I’m changing jobs, and start at a new company in about a month – as a result I need to get all my contact and calendar details off the corporate Exchange Server.

The tool of choice for the current attempt to scramble my calendar and address book achieve synchronisation nirvana is Plaxo. Now it has to be said that in it’s earlier form, Plaxo achieved a good deal of notoriety by the number of times it spammed people with sign up requests when someone created a profile and added your e-mail address as a contact. However in response to this, they do seem to have one of the most stringent privacy policies I’ve seen – certainly it is an interesting exercise to compare it and the level of control with that offered by Facebook… By way of an example, in both services you’ll quite likely end up with a mix of family, friends and business contacts, with Plaxo you can present a different subset of your profile to each group – key for example if you don’t want your business contacts getting hold of your home phone number. Since Plaxo are also including Facebook like picture and tagging facilities, and FriendFeed like life streaming features, it also allows you to keep business contacts clear of all the embarrassing pictures friends may upload – features sadly lacking from Facebook.

Anyway, my primary interest is in the synchronisation facilities. The list of supported platforms is pretty extensive, in terms of the ones I need it includes support for Outlook, and also an equivalent MacOS X plug-in for the synchronisation on that end. If you’ve currently been using systems such as Hotmail/Windows Live or Google Mail/Google Calendar it can link in to those services too – although at time of writing the Google Mail/Google Calendar connection is not bi-directional. In terms of other devices, Plaxo does have some support for these, but I’m sticking with synchronising those through Outlook and iSync respectively.

I did the basic set up yesterday, and I’m now going through the inevitable process of ironing out the bumps with duplicated data where I had different copies of the same contact in both Outlook and Address Book. The most common problem is having phone numbers in different slots so the synchronisation produces multiple phone number fields all holding the same information – this is usually made worse by there being variations in how a particular phone number is formatted including international formatting, brackets around area codes, and all sorts of stuff like that. Alongside this, there is a bit of time getting used to how e-mail addresses map between platforms. On the Address Book end, addresses are marked as either ‘Work’, ‘Home’ or ‘Other’, and you can have several of these – Plaxo also identifies addresses in a similar way. Outlook on the other hand just has three numbered slots for e-mail addresses. Plaxo has to map these fields to suitable slots in the Address Book structure, and tends to go for ‘Work’ if there is only one. I’m slowly working through getting those sorted using the address book in Plaxo – hopefully once that is all cleared up, the synchronised systems should fall into place.

Calendars I haven’t done that much with so far, which is basically because it is a big job and I wanted to get the contacts sorted first. The fundamental problem is the significant differences between the operational model used by Outlook, and the model used by iCal and Google Calendar amongst others. The intention with Outlook is that the user will operate on a single calendar, and use categories to distinguish different sorts of appointments. iCal on the other hand positively encourages you to work with multiple calendars, so for example I have a work calendar, a home calendar, a Church service calendar, a choir calendar and so on. What this does is allow people to share calendars, so for example the choir schedule could be kept on a single shared calendar and distributed to all members. The different calendars roughly correspond with my Outlook categories, and this is what most synchronisation solutions tend to map. However, it is incorrect to say that Outlook doesn’t support multiple calendars – it does, however the support has always been obstructive. For example until the 2007 release you couldn’t overlay the different calendars – only side by side views were available. When it comes to synchronisation with a PDA, only a single calendar is synchronised, so effectively you can’t operate with multiple calendars using Outlook if you’re synchronising on from there. The idea of multiple calendar support seems to very much be to allow you to look at other peoples calendars, but then the implication is that you’re going to put relevant events into your own calendar.

The issue is that Plaxo doesn’t synchronise categories with calendars. The Plaxo model supports multiple calendars, so your multiple iCal calendars map to multiple Plaxo calendars, and thereby onto multiple Outlook calendars. Whilst this works fine if you’re synchronising something like an iPod Touch or an iPhone using iSync as they all understand and can deal with multiple calendars – even if the devices appear to work on a single calendar model. Doing the same from Outlook, and especially with a Windows Mobile device, you’re back into single calendar world, and you’ll have chunks of your schedule missing. Since Outlook can cope with multiple calendars, albeit badly, I could probably move to syncing the mobile devices with iSync and use Outlook 2007 at the PC end – but I’ll have to stop trying to keep the Dell Axim in sync. I’ll also have to go through a process of splitting my calendar out, as it’s currently all rolled up into a single categorised calendar, rather than the multiple calendars that iCal would support.

So, it’s so far, so good – Plaxo seems to be working okay, and I haven’t come across any of the annoying time and date shifting problems that beset any attempt to use Entourage hooked up to an Exchange Server. The real challenge though is still to come – when I try to pick apart my calendars…