I think we all know the sorry feeling that we lost track of people we knew and worked with in the past but lost sight of. In the past it a was always very hard to find them again. Since some time now there is a new social network called LinkedIn. The idea is that you can find people by name and that they themselves keep their profiles up date. Meaning you can find them on their current e-mail address.
By using it I already found some old friends from the places I worked, colleagues, customers and partners. It even integrates into outlook and recognizes people you may know from all the old e-mails you have sent (I have an archive of all my mails from 1997 and on)
This linking to each other creates an interesting web. You can normally see the acquaintances of other people and and have a look at their network. Potentially you can get an introduction for people you wish to contact. One of the other interesting features is that you can pose a question that others can try to answer.
It seems to be growing explosively, especially in the Netherlands…
I think one of the reasons it works is that the identity of the people involved is (on average) accurate. People are who they say they are. After all, the network is also meant for finding real people and real jobs. So there is no use in providing false identities. I am really curious in how this network is evolving. Another interesting aspect is that the network that people build based on their role is becoming more their own instead of their employers. This may create a feeling of independence (which is a good thing in my book). Potentially the added value for the users is much bigger than it is in networks like facebook since it keeps track of how your career evolves after graduation.
I sent them an e-mail to find out if it is possible to get (anonymously) their data on the linkages between people. This of course is a small world network but it is interesting to find out what kind of people are the connectors, what is the average separation, and so on. I have not yet received an answer…
You can find me on linkedIn .
Some books are very helpful in making you understand developments. This summer I have read a book called “The Cluetrain manifesto”. Central theme of the book (which by the way is written in 2000 but started as as website in 1999) is the statement that markets (and a lot of other things) are conversations. The way companies use corporate communications and PR to tell us how we should think about them simply does not work anymore.
It makes you think. When I go to the market each Saturday to get the ingredients for a nice dinner I am in constant conversation. I tell the girl that always helps me with the vegetables how they were last week and she tells me what kind of specials she has this week. Sometimes we discuss how the ingredients are best used for the recipe I will be making. I learn from her and sometimes I can tell her new things. Same with the small butcher that I go to. In essence this is a weekly conversation that accompanies the business we do together. The one greatly enhances the other.
In a way this is the natural way people started doing business. Democracy and debate became of age in the Agora of Athens that was established as a marketplace. It is only with the establishment of big companies that we lost the conversational way of doing business. And because of this greater distance we created corporate communication to tell people what we think they should think of our company. But we stopped listening and forgot about two way conversation.
Internet and especially the social networks it supports again creates the opportunity to be in conversation with the market. Not to tell people why your product is so great but to be in conversation about the features people want. People love to help companies to improve the products they like, all they ask is that they listen and take them seriously.
I think here is a message for a lot of companies. More and more it will be needed to open up the company and invite people from the outside to help. With the development of new products, with how the product can be implemented.
The market is a conversation and conversations go in two directions (at least the nice ones, don’t you think?).
One of the other great books I have read this summer is linked, a book about the theory of small world networks. Many know about the famous Milgram experiment where he showed that most people in the world are connected by not more than six handshakes. Linked shows that this is because society has a “small world” topology, meaning that we have many closely related groups that are coupled by “connectors”, people that have many long range connections. The funny thing is that this type of network is also fairly common in nature, e.g. the way neurons are connected in the brain and the way fireflies synchronizes their lights. He describes many forms of these networks and simulations he did with this topology. I think this work has a lot of design rules in it how to create successful social networks. Somehow I think for example that the dunbar number (which relates to groups size and dynamics) is related to this. I will get back to that some other time.