September 20, 2007

PlugandPlay Expo Highlight: Spokeo

As far as Web 2.0 companies are concerned, Spokeo isn't the newest one on the block. And the extra time they took to improve their product over the last several months certainly gave them a leg up on those who hadn't yet left the "idea" phase.

The company was profiled on TechCrunch way back in November of 2006, and hit ZDNet this January. But of the companies I talked to at the PlugandPlay Expo today, they were among the few I could see using right away - assuming a few tweaks.

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Spokeo aims to aggregate data from multiple social networks and blogs in one central location. Targeted at the hard-core Web 2.0 user who has accounts at more than one social network (like MySpace and Friendster), the site gives you a one-stop destination to follow what all your "friends" are saying from all your sites. You can also import your RSS feed subscriptions via OPML, as I did this evening, from Google Reader.

As the company's VP of Marketing, Mital Poddar, illustrated to me, if you have a friend who only updates their blog every 45 days, and then complains that nobody made any comments on their post, most likely because everybody gave up on them publishing, you can ask Spokeo to watch that blog, be notified when they do post, and be up and making comments in minutes. Also, instead of having to log in separately to MySpace, Friendster,, Twitter and YouTube, you tell your Web browser to start on Spokeo, and get all the data in one place.

If I were a hard-core social net user, Spokeo would be a great place for me to keep tabs on all my Web friends in their disparate places. As I mentioned before, I recently made Google Reader my go to start page, and if Spokeo could add on top of it with valuable data, a move that way just might make sense. But there are still big gaps. For instance, Spokeo doesn't yet support two of the biggest networks I actually do use - including Facebook and LinkedIn. Mital and I talked about Facebook and LinkedIn at the conference today, so I can only hope those two services will also soon be supported.

And there's always the question of "How will they make money?" As mentioned in my last note, many of the companies, including Spokeo, are looking for advertisers. Mital talked about ad space being available below user profiles, or intermixing sponsored feed items and posts within Spokeo's presentation to users, just as Facebook does today in the News Feed. User growth, targeted ads, and linking context with advertisements would spur revenues beyond where they are today.

As Web 2.0 sites go, Spokeo is easy to use and has a clean interface, with nice Mac-like rounded corners, plenty of icons, and simplified addition of new friends to your "Buddy List", whether they be friends on a social network or a stand-alone Web site. The site enables you to customize the look and feel via multiple themes, and works well on both Safari and Firefox (a plus). However, you can't move sections of the site around, like you can with iGoogle or My Yahoo!, so there's still room to grow. I'll be keeping watch on Spokeo as they continue to enhance their service, and if I end up using it a lot, you'll be sure to hear about it.