In business, networking with other people is often the most important part of your job. That said, consider me incredibly skeptical of the new breed of "social software" marketplaces that are popping up all over the place. Rafe Needleman at Business 2.0 is raves about the concept in a column about LinkedIn, which is competing with a similar company called SpokeSoftware. There's also a lot of hype following the slightly more informal and less business-focused versions, found in places like Friendster and Ryze. It certainly seems like there's a trend to create these types of online "meet markets" for business or for pleasure. Why am I not impressed? First, I remember a similar company from a few years back called sixdegrees.com that had a ridiculous amount of hype before eventually folding. It turns out that many people have fun entering in the names of their friends at first - but very quickly lose interest. No one updates their lists, and no one does much beyond a little poking around. It's fun to see who your friends know, but most people aren't comfortable asking friends to be put in touch with their other friends. While it is a core part of networking, these systems often feel like spying on just who your friends' friends are. I also spent some time a few years back with a team of folks trying to build a very similar company (with a much stronger business model, in my opinion). I learned an awful lot about the way business people interact - especially when they're searching for the right person to make a deal with. The biggest thing is that the people you know in your network have tremendous value to you. Most people don't like to give up their rolodex. They know it's valuable, and they want to keep it in a position where they can leverage it - and not have to worry about random people (even if they know them) sniffing through it. They don't mind making introductions when they think it makes sense, but they get annoyed when someone approaches them and asks them to make an introduction. Also, there is much more value to me, if someone I know introduces me to someone because they thought it would be good if I knew that person. Any time I got an introduction through a system like LinkedIn, that connection would immediately have lower priority, because I would think that the person trying to contact me specifically tried to track me down - rather than the person linking us realizing that we should talk. Finally, the money factor. While people have no problem playing around with this stuff when it's free, I find it hard to believe most people would pay for such introductions. It's way too easy to route around such a system and just call your friend instead.
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