The original Plaxo is a little address-book organizing tool that I had always liked quite a bit. It’s got an Outlook plug-in which lets it sit in there and pay attention to the email addresses of people who email me and the people I email. There’s some global information superhighway sort of thing out there that it uses to synchronize these email addresses with everyone’s profiles, so my address book has — for many years now — been more or less up to date. It’s cool.

But now, however, I am having second thoughts about this seemingly-innocent little company.

They’ve started a new Web 2.0-type program called Plaxo Pulse. (It’s in beta.) Plaxo Pulse is sorta-kinda a good idea. It traipses through your address book and emails people to tell them whenever you do something on the tubes. I am now being barraged with emails telling me every time any of my friends post a blog entry, change their cell number, move, post a photo somewhere, etc. I can only assume that the people who consider me a friend (and who use Plaxo) are receiving the same barrage.

That in itself is not so evil. The creators of Plaxo Pulse were wise enough to allow me to disable these email alerts.

Here is why this is evil, and why people should be getting angry: (1) Plaxo Pulse uses blog RSS feeds to import a user’s blog posts into itself and (2) Plaxo Pulse steals blog comments.

  1. Plaxo Pulse uses blog RSS feeds to import a user’s blog posts into itself.

    That means every time I post a blog entry, the entry appear here on my blog (as it should!) and it appears again on the Plaxo Pulse site. This is bad. For years and years there has been a great debate over how Google feels about “duplicate content”. Most people feel that Google penalizes content which exists simultaneously in two places. Whether you believe in the Google “duplicate content penalty” is irrelevant. Google may very well not explicitly penalize one site for plagiarizing another, but there is definitely some sort of effect. Let’s say I write the world’s most brilliant post on the topic of swimming pyromaniacs. There are probably not a lot of other people writing about this. My website would theoretically start to rank highly in Google SERPs whenever someone searches for wet fire-lovers.
    Now let’s imagine that eventually lots of people start talking about swimming pyromaniacs. When other people post blogs about it, they naturally give me credit for exposing this insane practice by linking back to my site. My website receives a SERP ranking “boost” because it is receiving inbound links from other websites mentioning the same topic. (I also — again, theoretically — receive a “boost” because of the age of my post on the topic — I talked about it first — and because of the general popularity of my site.)
    I have advertisements on my site. I get paid when people click these ads. I have a vested interest in ranking highly in Google SERPs.
    But now the exact same content I posted about swimming pyromaniacs is appearing on the Plaxo Pulse website. Plaxo Pulse is a huge website with hundreds of thousands of pages and is growing like kudzu. Plaxo itself is tremendously popular, much more than David Gagne. It is very, very likely that the content I wrote which now appears on the Plaxo Pulse website will rank higher in Google SERPs than that same content on my davidgagne.net website. (When someone searches for swimming pyromaniacs in Google, the Plaxo Pulse link is going to appear higher than the davidgagne.net link.) The huddled masses tend to click what’s at the top in Google. That means that my ad will not be seen. That’s bad for me.

  2. Plaxo Pulse steals blog comments.

    Even more nefarious is the fact that the blog entry which appears on the Plaxo Pulse website allows visitors to post comments to it. These comments are not posted to my site. They appear on Plaxo Pulse. This is wrong on so many levels. If I don’t ever check Plaxo Pulse (and, presumably, if I have all my Plaxo Pulse email notifications disabled) I will never know that someone commented on my eloquent dissertation on swimming pyromaniacs. If enough people post comments to the Plaxo Post plagiarization of my writing, it will most definitely appear to be more popular (as far as Google is concerned) than my original essay. In fact there will likely be people that read and comment on swimming pyromaniacs at Plaxo Pulse who don’t even know that davidgagne.net exists, much less that it / I was the author of the topic.

Here is an example:
My friend Bob has a website called Numenware. On January 1st he posted a blog entry about an esoteric math news item. Bob’s original post is here. Bob’s content is plagiarized verbatim on Plaxo Pulse here. A savvy reader will note that someone named David Fotland has posted a comment to Bob’s blog entry at Plaxo Pulse. This comment was “stolen” by Plaxo. It does not appear on Numenware where it should. If I was Bob I would be quite peeved about this.