Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Social Networking Bloat?

This morning I received a mail containing an invitation to join a friend on Naymz social networking platform. I am quite interested in the topic (as as freelance, LinkedIn is one of my primary marketing tools) and trust the sender also as source of good hints, so – even if I am already registered on LinkedIn, Plaxo, Experteer, Facebook and Spock, I promptly joined in.

Every social networking has its value tightly related to the number of users. I've the feeling that the value provided by those tools is somewhat marginal compared to the fact that "you've got to be where the others are", sort of teenage grouping patterns transferred in a business relations territory. Well, Naymz folks got it pretty clear, so they included the possibility to spread the invitation in the fastest possible way, by importing LinkedIn connections and transforming them into invitations. Plaxo had a similar strategy, but was somehow more under control. Anyway, the result was something like an infection spread: Naymz sent invitations to around 60 people (I avoided those I didn't want to disturb, or the like), started sending me an e-mail every time one of my contacts took a look on my profile, and quite a few people joined my network pretty quickly. Then I started peeking to check if my ranking (a way to affect videogames addicted people more effectively) was increasing. I thought about the overall time this activity was dragging from more productive ones, and started to feel somewhat guilty. Maybe not all of my friends were really on "productive stuff" but the amount of overall time (counting a couple of minutes or more for contact) put on this unpredictable and not urgent at all activity was surprising, and made me use some more time thinking about what had just happened.

Yet another social networking tool?

SN is sort of hot topic nowadays and every internet company wants to become rich as Facebook folks did, even if nobody knows where the value comes from. Well… value comes from the critical mass, so Naymz and Plaxo piggybacked on existing networks such as LinkedIn (which in turn imports Google Mail connections). Unfortunately, being there is not the same thing as being there and there and there, and also there. Cause nobody could spend so much of his time just checking different SN tools, and because the ROI of your time decreases every other SN tool you use.

The funny thing is that differences in those tools are getting thinner and thinner, maybe pushing for a specialization of tools for specific purposes, more often generating huge areas of overlapping. Naymz is for reputable professional networking and has some sort of ranking, based on reliability of the information provided and opinions about you. Unlike Linkedin, connections are not shown, so you can't use Naymz to discover somebody's else's connections and your reputation is the sum of private opinions of your network.

What I've found annoying is that the "say something about you" or "endorse your connection" introduces data duplication with LinkedIn (which in turn has duplicated information with my Experteer profile), turning profile management into a complex activity on behalf of the user (something which is deeply wrong for my principles). I guess the next to come is just a Social Networking Management Console, allowing user to control every platform from a single access point. But this is also what every SN Service Provider is already trying to do, so probably my Darwinian expectations of natural selection are going to be unsatisfied.

Social Networking patterns

A couple of days ago I stepped on Plaxo, and read a blog entry by Andrey Golub which was linking to another article, by Mark Cummuta. It was interesting because it pointed out that SN tools are not used at all in the same way. Despite some advices in the main screen, some folks use LinkedIn, to know people instead that linking to people they already know. Somebody is interested more in the number of connection, than on the trust you can put on those connections. Controlling the way your users use a SN system is a difficult task, which has nothing to do anymore with coding. It's a mixture of social and behavioral sciences together with user interface design (because allow and make it easy are different things here). But you've got to be careful not to decrease the value of the platform you're on, or – worse – to make it annoying. I wonder how many of those SN service provider are approaching the problem from this perspective. But today I really felt like I was part of some worldwide social experiment.

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