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Contact-ual Search

These days, people change locations, jobs and email addresses more often than ever. Plaxo's contact management application aims to help by keeping contacts connected and accurately synchronized.

At Yahoo! Analyst Day, Plaxo announced that it will integrate Yahoo! Search into the upcoming Plaxo 2.0, which itself integrates into Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. With the upgrade, users will be able to search the Web directly from the e-mail client interface. The new version is expected to be released in the next few weeks.

"Yahoo! is continually seeking new ways to bring ubiquitous search access to Internet users," Tim Cadogan, vice president of Search at Yahoo!, said in a statement. "By embedding Yahoo! Search in Plaxo 2.0, Yahoo! will facilitate seamless Internet searches for Plaxo's fast-growing user base from within Outlook."

Plaxo claims more than 2 million users and, according to founder Todd Masonis, is adding ten to twelve thousand new users per day. The Silicon Valley startup has received venture capital from a who's who of VCs, including Sequoia Capital, Harbinger Ventures and Tim Koogle, president and CEO of Yahoo! from 1995 to 2001.

According to Masonis, the integration of Yahoo! Search with Plaxo 2.0 will be the first time Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express users are able to search the Web directly from their email client. The integration does not extend into searches of contacts or e-mail information

"The first step for us is an engineering challenge to get search into Outlook and into Outlook Express. It's actually non-trivial, so we see the first release as getting in there, getting it working, getting users excited about it," Masonis told internetnews.com.

According to Jupiter Research Analyst Michael Gartenberg, the integration May benefit Yahoo! as much or more than users. "[E-mail] is not typically a place where most users are going to be generating their search function from," he said,. "but it's certainly another way of Yahoo! getting their search utility into other parts of windows."

Gartneberg is less enthusiastic about Plaxo's business model. "The market is unclear as to how many people are willing to pay for this level of functionality," Gartenberg said. "There are a lot of people using Plaxo; the question is how many of them are actually willing to pay for it."

Plaxo is currently offered for free, with a plan to offer paid premium services at some point in the future. In the meantime, according to Scott Epstein, VP of Marketing for Plaxo, the Yahoo! Search deal will generate some revenue. "We can't talk about the specific terms of the deal," he said, "but generally speaking, we're talking about being paid on a per-search basis."

Yahoo! is not the only technology that Plaxo would like to integrate. "Part of our bigger vision is opening up the API so others can plug into it," Masounis said. "Even though it's proprietary, it can be something that's extensible enough so that other people can use it."

He said the search integration represents a shift from Plaxo's original model. "We heard from our users that they really liked interacting with the Plaxo software. That's why we put search in there. ... You'll see more things like that coming down the pipe."