Social networking: I can't make the connection

by Andy Oram

Yesterday I performed my first transaction on one of those social
networking, six-degrees types of systems you've been hearing so much
about. Someone whose interests I didn't know or care about asked me to
put him in touch with someone else whose interests I didn't know or
care about. Sitting there in the middle of the chain, I didn't know
what value I could add. I suppose I could honestly say, "The person
along the chain just before me is an upright member of his community
and not likely to drag heavy, clanging metal objects behind his car on a chain or endorse
other people who do so."

It turned out that the two people I was so laboriously involved in
connecting already know each other and have each other's email. I
think someone was just testing the system. Sheesh. Reminds me of
Internet portals, back when the Web was very, very young, that offered
a button where you could view a random URL. I'm certainly no closer to building my business and enriching my personal relationships.

I'm been shamelessly promiscuous about the people I form connections
with. I form connections with just about anyone I know, and I know a
lot of people because they're interesting for one specific reason or
another, and none of that means they're fit for some particular task
that somebody else has defined. I don't vouch that the people I know
are fit for anything at all.

And that's the problem that people have noted about social networking.
How do you formalize relationships? How do you say that something
relevant to one relationship is relevant to a different relationship
with a different person?

Maybe if I did more research and was more careful about whom I dealt
with (and kept track of why I dealt with each person) I could use this
social network more effectively. But if I took that kind of effort
with a social network, it would make sense to take the same effort
with email and every other forum through which I deal with
people. You'd have to fill out a form to send me email. (That last
sentence might have drawn a laugh a few years ago, but with the
growing frustration over spam I bet you're saying right now, "Yeah,
that seems to be the next stage to go to.")

Anyway, the most productive relationships I've had concern
relationships that I formed for one reason (like, "Hi, I'm Andy, sorry
I spilled my beer on your sleeve") and found other reasons for keeping
up. ("Wow! You've been helping your national government set up
policies for software deployment?") I just can't predict where my next
good connection will come from. Don't email me; I'll email you.

Are you getting productive results from an online social network?


2004-01-31 06:12:54
It is interesting how technology sometimes gets in the way of solutions, as if computers are the answer to every solution.

A long time ago, during the dot-com boom, I was involved with a project that wanted to connect Asian and American business interests. The organization thought if people would just register on the web page, then search for people with similar interests, the problem would be solved. I did not really care either way. I just did what they paid me to do.

Now, I get to spend a lot of time at the opera, and it is pretty plain to see how real business connections happen. "Hey, let's play golf next week", "Why don't you come up to the lake for the weekend", or "Wanna ride in my new plane?". People connect because they hang out together, not because they have an email in their virtual rolodex.

I wish I had known this in college, because soon after I graduated I was told by one of my professors, over drinks, that the only reason to select a college is to meet your future spouse and the people you will do business with the rest of your life. Outside of the technology world, I find that holds a lot of the time. If I had stayed in Physics, I would have already met most of the people with whom I would have worked for the rest of my career.