White Pages’ Hiya Wants to Eat Plaxo’s Lunch by Blending Your Scattered E-Phone Books with Old-School Contact Info

3/10/11Follow @curtwoodward

Seattle-based online directory provider WhitePages is unveiling a networked address book application that it says can outperform Plaxo and other startups in the market for wrangling your various digital rolodexes.

WhitePages has been testing its Hiya service since last fall, building up knowledge from a base of about 10,000 users. The public beta starts Thursday. It can be accessed through an iPhone app or Web browser.

The aim is to collect all of a user’s contact information, beam it up to the cloud and automatically update the listings by adding WhitePages’ public information databases. The contacts would then include location tagging to see who works nearby if you’re visiting a different city, for instance. Hiya also can push that information back into an iPhone’s built-in contacts and does sorting and duplicate-finding, among other things.

One very important point: Hiya doesn’t combine personal contact lists with the existing WhitePages databases and isn’t planning to sell any of the information. Uploading contacts from a cell phone or computer remains a closed loop between the user and Hiya.

“We don’t publish these contacts. We don’t share them,” senior product manager Amanda Bishop said.

Another Seattle-based online contact sorting service, Gist, made news last month when it was purchased by Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM), the maker of BlackBerry smart phones.

Bishop said Hiya is different because it’s not focused on pulling in feeds from social networks or other Web information sources. She said Hiya also tries to differentiate itself by making it easier for contacts to flow both ways, up into the cloud and back down into a phone.

There are some limitations. Right now, Hiya only works with contacts stored in iPhones and Google accounts, such as Gmail contacts. There are plans to integrate more sources into the system, particularly web-based e-mail and desktop e-mail, such as Microsoft’s Outlook.

Popular social networks Facebook and LinkedIn are a tougher nut to crack, Bishop said, because outside developers can’t really tap into the “rich information” like addresses or phone numbers. Bishop thinks it’s possible Facebook may loosen restrictions on that kind of data over time, but that sounds to me like the perfect recipe for another mass Facebook user freak-out over information sharing.

So how does this make money? It doesn’t, for now.

“The cool thing is that if we were a startup, we would have a lot of pressure to answer that question now,” Bishop said. “But we’re not. We’re part of a very healthy private company that is investing a lot in making sure that we’re staying relevant.”

Future plans to make Hiya an actual business might look something like the existing WhitePages app, which started out free and then brought along some advertising and premium-level services, she said. WhitePages also runs DealPop, one of the many online coupon services.

“We don’t have any plans to charge for this service at all, certainly this year,” Bishop said. “We really want to make sure we nail the product.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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  • http://www.contactgorilla.com Jase Clamp

    http://www.contactgorilla.com does the same except it supports more services. it can get info not in whitepages database because it directly asks your contacts to update their info. it helps detect and clean out old no-longer-working email addresses also.

  • http://www.plaxo.com/products/PlaxoPersonalAssistant Bill

    RE: ContactGorilla, Plaxo went down that road and learned that your contacts do not want to be asked to updated their info.

    Plaxo Personal Assistant is the only service that solves this problem.

    It proactively keeps your address book current and complete without requiring any effort from the address book owner or their contacts.