Thursday, February 5, 2004

3-2-1 Contact

I have been telling myself for months that I need to update my entire address book, but I didn’t want to sit on the phone for hours tracking down friends and acquaintances and pressing them for information. If your friends are anything like mine they move about once or twice a year. Luckily, I have found a solution that has completely simplified my life and saved me hours of phone calls. I have found Plaxo.

Plaxo, Inc. is a company that eliminates the frustration, wasted time, and lost opportunities caused by having inaccurate contact information for friends, family, colleagues, and customers. Plaxo contacts are accessible via the web and work closely with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. Sorry Mac guys – Plaxo has no option to update your Eudora or Entourage applications.

When I tried using Plaxo to update my address book I couldn’t believe the results. I sent out 124 requests to my friends and contacts to update their information. The email Plaxo sent them took less then a minute to fill out and send back to me. Almost immediately, I received 18 replies from other Plaxo members and 56 other update responses. I was amazed. I wanted to hug someone. I no longer had to call each person and track him or her down. Plaxo, thank you!

Plaxo automatically updates your Outlook or Outlook Express. It fills out all the fields that you want people to know. This is a great way for a client to have your updated information. Even if you switch jobs you are able to swiftly change your Plaxo information online and it will automatically update across the Plaxo network. Now that is the way to keep in touch! You automatically know when your friends or acquaintances move and are able to keep in touch with them.

The basic version of Plaxo’s content management services is free. Many of you may wonder how this company makes money – I have been wondering the same thing. Plaxo professes that they do not sell any personal information unless you say you want them too and that they make much of their money off of their premium service. Indeed, I can see no change in the amount of spam I am getting as a result of joining Plaxo.

This reminds me of the old Internet days when everything was free and life was good. This is no surprise, it turns out – Plaxo’s creators are none other then Sean Parker, a co-founder of Napster, and two Stanford engineers, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring.

If you are hesitant about signing up for this service, don’t be. Plaxo seems very reputable and is used in 200 countries around the world. It definitely has my stamp of approval. For more information about Plaxo, visit the company's web site at fb

An Offense to the Republic

Jobs, war, the economy, social security, intelligence failures, the deficit, and a host of uninspiring corporate-owned cardboard cut-out presidential hopefuls (including the incumbent) if there wasn't enough going foul in Washington already to get us all up in a tizzy...

First let us say that this article is neither meant to support or oppose the two critical issues which it revolves around – gay marriage and Ralph Nader. It is, instead, meant to express what should be a basic American outrage over two fundamental wrongs being pressed forward by our elected political-elite.

But enough PC legal-speak. We've got a rant to start:

Amending the Constitution to Limit the Rights of Americans
How misplaced are the priorities of our reigning administration when, in this January's State of the Union address, President Bush treated gay marriage with the same attention he acknowledged the War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq? His stance against gay marriage occupied more speech time than did his comments on balanced budget initiatives and pre-war intelligence improprieties. It is, perhaps, telling that San Francisco major Gavin Newsom admits his motive for so supporting gay marriage in California came to him during Bush's misappropriated speech.

We're not arguing that gay marriage isn't an important issue to many Americans. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are either outright opposed to gay marriage or would prefer the alternative civil unions exemplified in Vermont and Canada. Indeed, according to a recent CNN poll, fewer that 25% of Americans, homo- and heterosexual alike, support the right of legal gay marriage.

That's fine.

But draft legislation has surfaced which would amend the Constitution of the United States to federally prohibit gay marriage.

The Constitution. The document that defines our nation, lays out the rule of our government and, in tandem with the rightfully venerable Bill of Rights, has established and preserved an American tradition of freedom which has – though malleable and adaptive – guarded us for more than 200 years.

Why should the idea of amending the Constitution in this way so rile us up? Consider this:

There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution, from the famous First Amendment in 1791 to the most recent in 1992. Amendments guarantee our freedom of speech and religion, guard us from self-incrimination, abolished slavery, provide for due process and equal protection under the law, ensure the rights of persecuted minorities, give women and every free man over 18 the right to vote.

Indeed, in all the long career of our country there has only once been enacted an amendment that has limited the rights of the American people: The 18th Amendment. Prohibition. A damnable and reprehensible scar on our Constitution – undone only 14 years later by the 21st Amendment.

And now our lawmakers – indeed, even our president, who only four years ago publicly defined gay marriage as a states issue – are pushing to restrict the rights of millions of American with a federal amendment. An amendment designed to discriminate.

Regardless of your opinion on the legality or morality of gay marriage, the idea of so modifying our national document should chill your blood. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are meant, among other things, to defend our most basic rights from precicely this kind of popuar discrimination. Our founding fathers' sought to create a nation in which the rights of the minority were protected from the tyranny of the majority.

Laws exist on the books, the most defining of which, enacted under the Clinton administration, dictate that marriage be exclusively the purview of a heterosexual union of two people – man and woman. Both Federal and state legal precedents have upheld these laws.

That's okay. Maybe you agree with these laws, maybe you don't. But laws are temporal things. They come and go, enacted and revoked by lawmakers as whims and needs deem. But an amendment would prove an eternal blemish on our political heritage – like Prohibition. Its establishment and inevitable revocation would serve only to catalogue the people of our time alongside the T-totallers of 1919.

Support laws against gay marriage if you must. But an amendment? Never.

The Arrogance of the Democratic Party
Just so you don't think we're unfairly targeting conservatives...

Ralph Nader recently resurfaced as a presidential candidate and, before he even got the declaration off his lips on "Meet the Press", Tim Russert was ready with the Democratic ammunition served up by "liberal intelligentsia," countless websites, liberal newspapers, and every Gore-revisionist Florida voter since they popped their last chad in 2000.

And what is their united message? Their storied and thoughtful proclamation on the state of American democracy?

Don't run or our candidate might not defeat Bush.

Wah... Somebody call the Wah-mbulance.

We're not writing this as Bush-apologists, by any means. But for Democrats to openly demand Nader not run, as an independent, mind you – he does not support the Democratic Party or their candidates, whomever they may be – is an affront to the entire election process.

The fact remains that any American, however well-funded or party-affiliated, who wants to run for office and can form the proper committees and pay the proper fees can run. You can. I can (and might yet, if this keeps up). Nader can.

But, the Democrats complain, Nader's 3rd party candidacy cost Gore the election in 2000.

Yes. It did take votes away from Gore. Votes from people who didn't want Gore to be president and made what they felt was a better choice. But if the Democrats want to play this argument, let's take all the numbers into account. Nader may have cost Gore some votes. But how many did Buchanan cost Bush? How many did the Communist and Libertarian parties cost either of them? How many did the countless other third-party and independent candidates cost?

It doesn't matter. Instead of decrying his right to run against them, Democrats should focus on winning over his voters if they want to unseat Bush in 2004. They should focus on winning over dissatisfied conservatives and swing moderates. They should campaign.

After all, the campaign doesn't last 11 months for our health or amusement. It's a competition. And anyone who wants to play can. fb

Cookie-Cutter Candidates...

If Howard Dean demonstrated anything before he abandoned the race for the White House – anything besides his now notorious vocalizations, that is – it's that the internet can be more than a simple brochure-ware avenue for campaign communication. Indeed, in the past few national campaign seasons web-presence has become increasingly significant as a means of candidate saturation and communication.

And this spring's crop of Democratic and independent presidential contenders are no different. Each clings proudly to their website, even displaying their URLs above the names on many a lectern or podium.

We decided to take a look at three of the nation's most visible and controversial candidates' websites: Those of Democrats John Edwards and John Kerry, and that of independent Ralph Nader.

What first stuck us was the similarity of each site. With some slight variation on the part of, all three sites seemed to be cut from the same template. Indeed, we were reminded of Howard Dean's website (reviewed in Fight.Boredom's 2003.11 critique: How to Raise $200 Million Online).

Some similarity should be expected, in fact, as a result of their like subject-matter. Red, white, and blue serve as the dominant color scheme on all three sites. Common election symbols – the donkey, the vote-pin – and the ever-present map of the voting electorate, by state, adornes each homepage.

The Democrats' websites both focus on the active primary campaigns leading up to Super Tuesday. Both prominently feature recent images of their candidate at an event or giving a stump speech. Both feature near immediate responses to Bush policies and campaign accusations. And both – along with Nader's site, for that matter – use the now ubiquitous Blog-style posts to communicate fresh content from the candidate and their teams every day.

Kerry's website, slightly set apart in design from Edwards' and Nader's sites, does feature a few clever interactive communications tools that the other sites are remiss to exclude. Principal among these is his policy statements, a clean and well-built page only one click off the homepage outlining his platform. The greatest surprise therein was the outline of his first 100 days' priorities – each priority folds open revealing more detailed text, links to complete policy statements, and streaming video of speeches and radio addresses on the topic.

That being said, the problem of overall similarity remains. The challenge I brought to my coworkers exemplified this. By masking the candidate's logos, names, and faces on the homepages, they were unable to match the candidate to the website with any accuracy. Indeed, what become most striking was that the format of the sites did little to distinguish candidate or party. Nader's anti-party rhetoric was all that could give him away; Edwards and Kerry simply were simply indistinguishable – one reviewer even suggested their two hompages were the same site.

This similarity was, in fact, the initial inspiration for this critique – when first looking at candidate websites we weren't sure where one site ended and another began.

And these sites had other problems. Nader's website would occasionally load horribly mangled formatting, with content strewn across a huge empty white space in the middle of the page and with images misaligned beneath other content. Edwards' website featured a ticker which inspired epilepsy and, three-or-four clicks into the site, a less than user friendly brief on his platform. I eventually gave up trying to compare his policies to Kerry's.

And Nader's website perhaps suffers the worst insult of all: defamation. On my first attempt to visit the official Nader campaign website ( I instinctively visited first – an anti-Nader site criticizing his 2000 campaign and featuring images of burned Iraq children.

What these sites all do well, however, is what Howard Dean showed them how to do: Raise money. On Edwards' website you can even earn a free DVD or a copy of his mother's delicious Peanut Butter Pie (it does look really good). Nader's contributors are likewise encouraged to help him raise $70k for his 70th birthday.

If these candidates want to set themselves apart, they need to better distinguish their interactive communications. They certainly would never settle for ambiguous television ads or print materials – why settle for cookie-cutter websites? Each candidate needs to distinguish himself from his competitors in every arena of the campaign.

Now if only we can get then to distinguish themselves politically... fb