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December 2009
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Joseph Smarr has new work info…

High on my to-do list for 2010 will be to update my contact info in Plaxo, because I’ll be starting a new job in late January. After nearly 8 amazing years at Plaxo, I’m joining Google to help drive a new company-wide focus on the future of the Social Web. I’m incredibly excited about this unique opportunity to turbo-charge my passionate pursuit of a Social Web that is more open, interoperable, decentralized, and firmly in the control of users.

I’ve worked closely with Google as a partner in opening up the social web for several years, and they’ve always impressed me with their speed and quality of execution, and more importantly, their unwavering commitment to do what’s right for users and for the health of the web at large. Google has made a habit of investing heavily and openly in areas important to the evolution of the web—think Chrome, Android, HTML5, SPDY, PublicDNS, etc. Getting the future of the Social Web right—including identity, privacy, data portability, messaging, real-time data, and a distributed social graph—is just as important, and the industry is at a critical phase where the next few years may well determine the platform we live with for decades to come. So when Google approached me recently to help coordinate and accelerate their innovation in this area, I could tell by their ideas and enthusiasm that this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to pass up.

Now, anyone who knows me should immediately realize two things about this decision—first, it in no way reflects a lack of love or confidence from me in Plaxo, and second, I wouldn’t have taken this position if I hadn’t convinced myself that I could have the greatest possible impact at Google. For those that don’t know me as well personally, let me briefly elaborate on both points:

I joined Plaxo back in March of 2002 as their first non-founder employee, before they had even raised their first round of investment. I hadn’t yet finished my Bachelor’s Degree at Stanford, and I’d already been accepted into a research-intensive co-terminal Masters program there, but I was captivated by Plaxo’s founders and their ideas, and I knew I wanted to be a part of their core team. So I spent the first 15 months doing essentially two more-than-full-time jobs simultaneously (and pretty much nothing else). Since that time, I’ve done a lot of different things for Plaxo—from web development to natural language processing to stats collection and analysis to platform architecture, and most recently, serving as Plaxo’s Chief Technology Officer. Along the way, I’ve had to deal with hiring, firing, growth, lack of growth, good press, bad press, partnerships with companies large and small, acquisitions—both as the acquirer and the acquiree—and rapidly changing market conditions (think about it: we started Plaxo before users had ever heard of flickr, LinkedIn, friendster, Gmail, Facebook, Xobni , Twitter, the iPhone, or any number of other companies, services, and products that radically altered what it means to “stay in touch with the people you know and care about across all the tools and services that you and they use”). When I joined Plaxo, there were four of us. Now we have over 60 employees, and that’s not counting our many alumni. All of this is to make the following plain: Plaxo has been my life, my identity, my passion, and my family for longer than I’ve known my wife, longer than I was at Stanford, and longer than I’ve done just about anything before. Even at a year-and-a-half since our acquisition by Comcast, Plaxo has the same magic and mojo that’s made it a joy and an honor to work for all these years. And with our current team and strategic focus, 2010 promises to be one of the best years yet. So I hope this makes it clear that I was not looking to leave Plaxo anytime soon, and that the decision to do so is one that I did not make lightly.

Of all the things I’ve done at Plaxo over the years, my focus on opening up the Social Web over the past 3+ years is the work I’m proudest of, and the work that I think has had the biggest positive impact—both for Plaxo and the web itself. Actually, it really started way back in 2004, when I first read about FOAF and wrote a paper about its challenges from Plaxo’s perspective, for which I was then selected to speak at my first industry conference, the FOAF Workshop in Galway, Ireland. Since that time, I realized what a special community of people there were that cared about these issues in a web-wide way, and I tried to participate on the side and in my free time whenever possible. After leading Plaxo’s web development team to build a rich and complex new AJAX address book and calendar (something that also reinforced to me the value of community participation and public speaking, albeit on the topic of high-performance JavaScript), I knew I wanted to work on the Social Web full-time, and luckily it coincided perfectly with Plaxo’s realization that fulfilling our mission required focusing on more than just Outlook, webmail, and IM as important sources of “people data”. So we crafted a new role for me as Chief Platform Architect, and off I went, turning Plaxo into the first large-scale OpenID Relying Party, the first live OpenSocial container, co-creator of the Portable Contacts spec, co-creator and first successful deployment of hybrid onboarding combining OpenID and OAuth, and so on. Along the way I co-authored the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web, coined the term Open Stack, was elected to the Boards of both the OpenID Foundation and OpenSocial Foundation, and worked closely with members of the grass-roots community as well as with people at Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, The New York Times, and others, often as a launch partner or early adopter of their respective forays into supporting these same open standards. And collectively, I think it’s fair to say that our efforts greatly accelerated the arrival, quality, and ubiquity of a Social Web ecosystem that has the potential to be open, decentralized, and interoperable, and that may define the next wave of innovation in this space, much as the birth of the web itself did nearly 20 years ago.

But we’re not done yet. Not by a long shot. And the future is never certain.

At the recent OpenID Summit hosted by Yahoo!, I gave a talk in which I outlined the current technical and user-experience challenges standing in the way of OpenID becoming truly successful and a “no-brainer” for any service large or small to implement. Despite all the progress that we’ve made over the past few years, and that I’ve proudly contributed to myself, there is no shortage of important challenges left to meet before we can reach our aspirations for the Social Web. There is also no shortage of people committed to “fighting the good fight”, but as with any investment for the future with a return that will be widely shared, most people and companies are forced to make tough trade-offs about whether to focus on what already works today or what may work better tomorrow. There are a lot of good people in a lot of places working on the future of the Social Web, and we need them all and more. But in my experience, Google is unmatched in its commitment to doing what’s right for the future of the web and its willingness to think long-term. One need only look at the current crop of Social Web “building blocks” being actively worked on and deployed by Google—including OpenID, OAuth, Portable Contacts, OpenSocial, PubSubHubbub, Webfinger, Salmon, and more—to see how serious they are. And yet they came to me because they want to turn up the intensity and focus and coordination and boldness even more.

I talked to a lot of Googlers before deciding to join, and from the top to the bottom they really impressed me with how genuinely they believe in this cause that I’m so passionate about, and how strong a mandate I feel throughout the company to do something great here. I also heard over and over how surprisingly easy it still is to get things built and shipped — both new products, tools, and specs, as well as integrating functionality into Google’s existing services. And, of course, there are so many brilliant and talented people at Google, and so much infrastructure to build on, that I know I’ll have more opportunity to learn and have an impact than I could ever hope to do anywhere else. So while there are other companies large and small (or perhaps not yet in existence) where I could also have some form of positive impact on the future of the Social Web, after looking closely at my options and doing some serious soul searching, I feel confident that Google is the right place for me, and now is the right time.

Let me end by sincerely thanking everyone that has supported me and worked with me not just during this transition process but throughout my career. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing people that genuinely want to have a positive impact on the world and want to empower me to do the best that I can to contribute, even it means doing so from inside (or outside) a different company. It’s never easy to make big decisions involving lots of factors and rapidly changing conditions, let alone one with such deep personal and professional relationships at its core. Yet everyone has treated me with such respect, honesty, and good faith, that it fills me with a deep sense of gratitude, and reminds me why I so love living and working in Silicon Valley.

2010 will be an exciting and tumultuous year for the Social Web, and so will it be for me personally. Wish us both luck, and here’s to the great opportunities that lie ahead!

  • Barry Graubart

    Exciting news and a fantastic hire by Google.
    I look forward to some great things..

  • atom

    Congratulations! Looking forward to continuing to work with you and fighting the good fight for the Social Web!

  • electromute

    Congrats, man! This is a great move for you. Good luck with everything.

  • Ken Kennedy

    Congrats, Joseph! Good luck! Looking forward to 2010 as well!

  • Artem Russakovskii

    This is a very sad day in Plaxo history. We will miss you Joseph, but hopefully we'll be seeing you often as well.

    Good luck at Google!

  • nickc321

    congrats. looking forward to seeing your energy and influence at google. I sure great things will be in the future

  • Olivier

    Congrats! Your work on the open social web at Plaxo has been a source of inspiration for many in the industry, so keep us inspired at Google!

  • briansolis

    Congrats Joseph. Can't wait to hear what your working on!

  • bengolub

    Best of Luck, Joseph! Your contributions to Plaxo and the social web in general have been incredible. Google is luck to have you!

  • Brian kissel

    Wow, great news and congratulations Joseph! Best wishes for a great 2010 and look forward to working with you on OpenID in the coming year.

  • Bill Shupp

    Congratulations Joseph! Looking forward to your continued great work on the open stack!



  • itsinsider

    Awesome. Really good news for Google. Now, how do I turn all your new job notifications off in Plaxo? :-)

  • Rachael W

    Wow, congrats on the big news!

  • George Fletcher

    Congratulations! I look forward to more great things in the Social Web!

  • Louis Gray

    Congratulations, Joseph. This is big news, and yet another proofpoint that Google is serious about embracing the open and social Web. Hoping to hear great things from you and your new team in 2010.

  • David Recordon

    Congrats! It's going to be great continuing to work with you as we keep pushing forward the social web and build it upon open standards. :)

  • Daniel Brusilovsky

    Congrats, Joseph!

  • Jon Kern

    Best wishes for your new endeavor! I can relate to the tug on your heartstrings to leave your first company for new challenges. Good luck!

  • michaelhart

    Congratulations, Joseph! It will be great to have you influencing things over at Google.

  • Sameer

    Google surely got another Gem….

    Great News Joseph…


  • Will

    Congratulations, best of luck, and looking forward to the future with you over there.

  • Steve Ganz

    Congrats, Joseph! This is great news for all of us.

  • Mark Krupinski

    Congratulations Joseph! Big loss for Plaxo, Big win for Google.

    I wish you nothing but the best and Happy Holidays.


  • PhunnyGuy

    Wow, I almost forgot you invented the Internets. But now that you reminded me, I remember it for sure!

  • awaterman8

    Having been there when Joseph was “interning” at this “startup” called Plaxo back in '02, I can attest to the commitment he must've shown to ride that wave all the way until '09!

    Best of luck at the big G, Joseph — the move is well-deserved and I'm sure will be well-appreciated there.

  • Kaan Bingol

    Congratulations! This is great news and it is a very good sign that Google will lead the way to open social web. I'm sure you will contribute a lot to their initiatives like OpenSocial.

  • Alek Davis

    This is great. Congratulations, Joseph!

  • Weston Triemstra

    Congratulations, that's very exciting news. I'm sure you'll do great things at Google.

  • Will Aldrich

    congratulations, Joseph. all your friends @TripIt are excited to hear your news. we look forward to working with you on this stuff going forward in your new role.

  • ram

    joseph – congrats! i am excited for you.


  • frandallfarmer


  • John Panzer

    Congratulations Joseph. An early holiday present for those of us at Google!

  • Paul Tarjan

    Good luck Joseph.

  • ciberch

    Congrats Joseph you will have a fun time making Google more social !

  • Terrell Russell

    well done, sir. you deserve it.

  • Jon

    Congrats! I hope this means another performance talk in the near future. :]

  • Luke Shepard

    Congrats Joseph! Next year's going to be huge!

    The real question is, what does this mean for the Social Web TV? :)

  • chanezon

    Congrats Joseph, looking forward to see you make Google more social!

  • Michael Finney

    Fantastic news! I wish you the best on your new career adventure! :) Good luck.

  • Bess

    Congratulation! See you in the FUTURE!

  • vzzvzz

    Great speech! Good luck Joseph!

  • Janice

    Joseph, congrats on your success at Plaxo and Google. I'm so happy for you!

  • Chris Messina

    Hard to add much to what everyone else has already said, but congrats Joseph. It's been great working with you and I expect we'll be working even more closely in the future! Congrats!

  • shreyas

    Great news. Congrats Joseph. Looking forward to seeing you more often on campus!

  • iankennedy

    Congratulations! It'll be good to have you over there.

  • Jud Valeski

    hey man, don't retire on us now. looking fwd to working w/ you in your new role!

  • Eiji

    I've been a big fan of you ever since I saw your session at Google I/O 2008. PortableContacts, SocialWeb TV, etc, all efforts you made to make SocialWeb better impressed and inspired me so much. I'm looking forward to be able to work with you someday in the future. Congratulations!

  • Sami Shalabi

    Congrats Joseph! We are excited to have you on board.

  • http://SLGLLC.COM peter stonefield

    Fantastic Joseph. Google and You have made a brilliant choice for the future of the Social Web.

  • Jay Cuthrell

    Congrats Joseph!