Friday, September 21, 2007

From social networking to nonsense: Facebooking business

The success of Facebook as a networking tool is a fact that is amply demonstrated by the incredible rate of adoption of the tool around the globe. As part of my ongoing work to remain as current as possible with the wonderful stuff happening in this world in our technological era, I opened an account to try Facebook. The features that allow a member to locate other members with whom she may have something in common from high-school attended to looking for a relationship are just great and seem to be working very well indeed. For example, I was able to identify people who were at my high-school in Athens back in the eighties, although the fact that their profiles had disappeared by the second time I logged into Facebook leads me to the (perhaps erroneous) conclusion that there must be quite some churn on this platform. That's pretty much where my positive experience with Facebook ends and that has nothing to do with the platform itself but perhaps more with the fact that I am no longer a student or a young overworked professional and not particularly looking for a relationship, friendship or "random play" (whatever that is) through Facebook...
However, what struck me in this experiment is the abnormally high number of people I know from professional contexts who invited me to join their company's or their professional network's "Group". Sometimes the Groups were not that active and at other times I got a very strong feeling of utter weirdness when checking out the profiles of the people who invited me only to discover that they were stating an interest in "women" and looking for "anything they can get" (which can be quite a risky statement since I suspect there are quite a few things one can but would not get); all that left me wondering about the relevance of that part of their profile in a professional context. And then I noticed that some of those people were actually investing energy in building "communities" and "groups" in other platforms as well and I wonder about the return and business relevance of such activities, especially when carried out on platforms with such heteregeneous groups of users. I will just add that these developments occur on platforms which are often without any business model to sustain
them in the longer run and that actually means that there is a risk for
the continued availability of users' data and thus for the return they can expect from their efforts to build their groups or communities.



All of this brings me to the conclusion that the frontier between interesting social networking experiments and complete business nonsense is sometimes easily crossed. Today it does seem that many social networking platforms are just too broad trying to be all things to all sorts of people and I believe there is going to be some pretty dramatic consolidation and specialization in this field too. The following simple facts also seem to be getting lost from sight in all the frantic agitation around social networking:



  • networking is not a technical matter, in the sense that when people simply apply "recipes" and techniques extracted from some "Networking for dummies" without engaging emotionally in the web of human relationships they seek to develop, then it just does not work. I still remember how a guy I met early in my career started all of a sudden calling me and sending me wishes on my birthday years after we had lost contact: can you feel the awkwardness of the situation?


  • networking is not a technological matter: it's not about building mighty databases and finding correlations or common fields of interest provided in formatted profiles. Technology can support the process, but it cannot replace human contact and relationships, which is one of the reasons why I like the way LinkedIn has been able to combine technology and a process involving introductions by common acquaintances and perhaps why I find Facebook is doing too much in the way of identifying members with common characteristics;


Perhaps a Facebook for business should emerge and combine a carefully chosen subset of its features with a platform like LinkedIn... Just an idea to finish this rant and move to something else.



3 comments:

  1. Indeed, FaceBook is an über-Friendster: some "social network" non-sense but with a great technical platform and the possibility to build applications on it (http://developers.facebook.com). This extensibility makes it attractive to geeks (who mainly look for nerdy fun) and corporates (who want to reach a broad audience).
    This said, I am less and less interested by what a particular social platform can offer than by how it is going to integrate with the rest of the world.
    This http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2007/09/using_open_stan.html is promising, for that matter.
    Imagine, for example, that on-line job boards finally decide to abandon their home made clunky resume builders and integrate with LinkedIn?
    This would re-inforce LinkedIn as a potential source of (professional) identity.

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  2. David,
    Thanks for your comment. You are right to point out that Facebook is more than a place where one configures a profile and sets out to more or less randomly meeting other members in order to satisfy mutual interests. The fact that the platform allows applications to be developed and added by members is certainly an interesting aspect and in many ways brings to mind the strategy of SalesForce. Thank you for the link to O'Reilly Radar. I totally agree with the general thrust of the post as well as with your opinion about the impact a genuine drive to integrate with LinkedIn would have... On the other hand, it may be precisely what owners of job sites fear in the sense that they perceive the fact of placing LinkedIn at the heart of their services as a threat, when in fact its rise to such a central position is almost inescapable and, yes, may go as far as giving LinkedIn a key role for certifying professional identity.

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  3. Great insights. Made me laugh out loud at some point. I do agree that Facebook (or other Social Networking sites for that matter) is not really for businesses. It comes out as too "trying hard" in my opinion.

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