An interesting article from Business 2.0 about extending personal networks.
RAFE NEEDLEMAN'S WHAT'S NEXT
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It's All About Who You Know
Social networking software is intriguing. But does it really replace the old-fashioned method of
By Rafe Needleman, Jun 05, 2003
Today's column got its start when Kevin Werbach, another tech commentator, sent me a request to
join his "network" at the new site LinkedIn. I was curious about LinkedIn, so Werbach helped me
contact its founder, Reid Hoffman -- even though Werbach doesn't know Hoffman personally (the
two just "have friends in common").
Werbach helped me meet someone useful to my work. And this is just what Hoffman is trying to
systematize with his service.
LinkedIn is a tool for turning your friends' connections into your own. It allows you to see a
list of everybody in your own circle and in the circles of your listed friends. Now that I'm
connected to Werbach and Hoffman, I might see that I have a connection to, say, Bill Clinton.
But I won't know the path -- which friend of mine is connected to him or how many links away he
is; LinkedIn doesn't tell me. But it allows me to compose a note to Clinton, which is then
routed to the closest of my connections to him. This person, I hope, will then forward my
message, essentially vouching for me as he or she does so -- and so on, until Clinton gets my
note and chooses to reply to me (or not).
The difference between LinkedIn and most other social networking systems, like the
first-generation Six Degrees or the newer Ryze, is that LinkedIn is invitation-only. You can't
barge into the network by yourself. It's like a good cocktail party.
And no matter how much the system grows, the second-order connections (friends of friends) will
be more likely to bear fruit than the more remote connections (friends of vague acquaintances),
which is as it should be. And the vouching system described above should insulate users from
people they'd rather not talk with, assuming that users' closest friends exercise discretion in
passing on messages. In the future, LinkedIn will also have a feature that allows users to sever
connections to people who they feel are pestering them with too many bad referrals.
LinkedIn is free in this early experimental stage, but the goal is to sell memberships to the
system, and the first big push to pay will come when somebody you want to contact indicates
assent to establish the connection. For example, if Clinton were to answer my query, I'd have to
pay up to see the reply and establish the one-on-one connection. In that case, it'd probably be
worth even a fairly high price (Hoffman hasn't set prices yet).
I do have to point out that I didn't use LinkedIn to contact Hoffman to write this column,
although if I had, the result would probably have been the same (a phone call with him). Despite
my love of new technology, when it comes to making personal connections, I'm an old-fashioned
guy, and I felt more comfortable with the inefficient journalistic nagging that has worked for
me so far.
I still think this is a useful tool -- not every person I'd like to talk to is likely to return
my call without a referral. Hoffman said that, on principle, he wouldn't have, had I not been a
"celebrity journalist" -- thus illustrating his excellent grasp of another one of the main tools
of personal networking: flattery.
So the further away I get from my core business of writing about technologists, the more I could
benefit from LinkedIn. Indeed, via the half-dozen people I am directly connected to in LinkedIn,
I see that I now have access to a network of more than 2,000 people, many with reputations I
know and respect, but whom I've never met. Will it be worth it to me, and others, to pay to
connect to these networks? Well, even former presidents go to real-world parties and conferences
to talk with people and further their own agendas, so there may just be an online analog to
throwing these parties. It's too early to say whether LinkedIn has the mix right, and Hoffman
admitted that he'll be tweaking the system as he goes. Building the right venue for making
valuable contacts online will be a challenge, but it's a worthwhile one. After all, at the heart
of real business is personal networking. (Embedded image moved to file: pic20404.gif)
Michael J. Martin
Business Consulting Services
IBM Global Services
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