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After flirting with social media Plaxo has gone back to its address book roots.

I looked at the latest free version of the software after general manager Preston Smalley left a message about the changes on my earlier post about Plaxo’s software.

Personal Assistant plays to Plaxo’s strengths

Plaxo was always good at syncing contact management applications. That’s been turned into a strength.

Plaxo Pulse, which fed social media information, has gone. Instead Plaxo has added Personal Assistant. The company says the software automatically searches the online world to help keep your address book up to date.

Free Plaxo Basic

The free software is called Plaxo Basic. Like many free online tools, the free version is a lure for a paid-for version.

Although I could use a decent online address book, I’m not biting.

At first sight Plaxo Basic appears to allow you to import contacts from ten online services plus Microsoft Outlook. There’s also a CSV (comma separated values) importer for taking data from other sources.

I tested the Gmail importer first. It took a few minutes to connect and directly import names and addresses. Not bad performance, but I worry there may be security implications handing over my Gmail account details to Plaxo.

Linkedin importer not the best

Plaxo’s Linkedin importer is less impressive. Click on the option and instead of a seamless, automatic import Plaxo offer a set of instructions.

They tell you how to download a CSV file of contact details from Linkedin to your computer, then upload the file to Plaxo. Not as smooth as I’d like, but it worked and took minutes.

After uploading my Linkedin contacts, a Plaxo message said I had 14 duplicates. It offered me the de-duper tool which allows you to merge contacts.

Contact merge not clear

I immediately ran into problems with contacts who had moved jobs. In some cases I would have preferred to select the newer of the duplicate entries and delete the other rather than merge entries. This may be possible, but it wasn’t obvious.

In the end I had to click the merge button to put all the data in one place, then go back and edit the entry. The process isn’t well designed and it isn’t entirely clear what is going on and what results you get from clicking various options. You may find this a useful approach. I don’t see much advantage in it.

Another problem: Plaxo merge can’t count. It told me I had 14 duplicates but only found four. Does that mean there are ten more duplicates hidden from sight? I don’t know.

Plaxo Basic just about worth the effort, maybe

Plaxo Basic is free. Basic is the right word.

It doesn’t come close to Microsoft Outlook 2010. You may find Plaxo Basic worth the effort, but Plaxo is not the not the uber-address book I’m looking for.

Plaxo offers two premium options, which may be more valuable to you.

Plaxo Personal Assistant – which is marketed with an image of a woman who looks like a grown-up version of the Daria cartoon character. Plaxo says it recognises outdated contact details and automatically updates. It also completes missing details and cleans out duplicates.

Going on my experience with Plaxo Basic, I doubt it delivers on its promises. US$80 a year is a lot of money for a tool which may or may not work. I suspect I wouldn’t use it in practice.

Plaxo Platinum Sync – automatically connects the address book to smartphones, although not yet Android phones , for US$60 a year.

Finally, I don’t trust a marketing department which represents US$59.99 as ‘less than $5 a month”. The sly dishonesty in this message makes me wonder what else is amiss in the Plaxo offering. The company had a dodgy reputation in the past – maybe Plaxo is still flaky?