AOL Addresses Update

America Online is quietly introducing a beta version of an address card feature that will allow members to automatically share changes to their contact information with friends and colleagues.

“AOL Address Cards are currently in beta and we expect to make them available to members when we introduce additional enhancements to AOL 9.0 Optimized over the coming weeks,” said Jaymelina Esmele of AOL via an email message. “Members can decide what information they want to share and with whom they want to share it.”

Clearly a user-loyalty feature, the cards, accessible through AOL 9.0 Optimized, can be used by members to update others in their address books — whether they’re on AOL or not. Non-AOL users receive the cards in the vCard standard format, which integrates with many email programs. Updates aren’t automatic for non-AOL users, though, making the process a bit more cumbersome. Users must belong to AOL to send the cards out.

Asked if the product could be incorporated into an enterprise email solution, Jane Lennon, an AOL spokeswoman, said, “This product is designed for members and is very consumer-oriented. It’s for individual members.

“We are testing the product and looking at user feedback now,” said Lennon.

Automatic-update services are also available through contact-management companies such as Plaxo and GoodContacts Research. Mountain View, Calif.-based Plaxo’s contact management tool can be downloaded for free, and Ottawa-based GoodContacts also has a free version of its service.

The big difference between these services is that they contact an individual’s friends and colleagues to make sure the individual’s address list is up to date. AOL Address Cards do the reverse — they tell members’ friends when the members move or change phone numbers.

“If I had an address card and I shared it with you and you accepted it, every time I update my postal address, my email address, phone number or whatever I enter into my address card, as long as you accepted my card and wanted those updates, that’s what you would receive,” said Lennon.

AOL members can currently access information about the cards on AOL 9.0 Optimized through keyword “Address Card.” The address card is then set up by entering information such as phone number and address. It is possible to vary the information sent out according to the nature of the contact, e.g. “work” and “personal.”

“It sounds like a great idea from an internal perspective. If their users want to share information with each other automatically, that’s another advantage to the members,” said David Fowler, director of deliverability at email marketing firm @Once. “The service could possibly be put to use to maintain or expand marketers’ lists, but it would be necessary to know more about it [to determine that],” Fowler said.

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