Monday, November 19, 2007

Adventures in Social Networking

For the past few months, I've been attempting to get a handle on social networking. My reasons were both personal and professional. On the personal side, I got myself a MySpace account just so I can log in and see my daughter's page. I don't go there very often anymore, but occasionally if I want to see if anyone has put anything 'untoward' on her page. So far, no one has.

On the professional side, my predominant reason was to try and understand how social networks work, and what value they have for publishers. So much was being written about travelling widgets and other marketing tools, and, while I could understand it theoretically, I wanted to understand it through experience. So, I opened a Facebook account.

That's what I thought the extent of social networks were, Myspace and Facebook. I thought this was all about the young and hip - of which I'm neither. Then for fun (and personal pleasure) David Berlind turned me on to a site called Zude. Another social networking site with some intriguing technical capabilities - most of which I haven't quite figured out how to work yet.

Then I started notice things, and light eventually dawned... All these sites include 'friends', and they all want my personal address book. Hmmm interesting. I hadn't put it together before, but then I started to realize that Plaxo and LinkedIn were also social networking sites. I'd been involved in those for quite a while - invited by 'friends' that I wouldn't consider young and hip. I thought Plaxo was just a way to keep contact information up to date.... little did I know...

What I've come to find is that there are social networks where you can pretend to be anyone you want (MySpace and SecondLife come to mind) and others where you can really develop a list of contacts by seeing what contacts your friends have (Facebook and LinkedIn come to mind). It's been intriguing and somewhat exhilerating to have people accept my invitations to be connected online. I have hooked up with some people that I haven't seen in 20 years. Pretty cool. Most of that has happened on LinkedIn.

On Facebook, I find the usability a little more challenging, but the power far greater. The concept of groups is really powerful. By joining groups that I am interested in, I find that I am making a much richer definition of who I am than anything I could or would write about myself in a profile. I am also finding out a lot of interesting information about my 'friends' that I never knew.

But all of this comes at what I think is a pretty steep price. Being online, and checking all this stuff out takes a ton of time, and it's pretty addicting. So, if you have a procrastinating nature, like I do, you can really procrastinate to your hearts content. The other price is just keeping them all synchronized. Now that I have Plaxo, LinkedIn, and Facebook, I have different friends in each, mostly because I am too embarrassed to ask people to join me on three (or four or five) different platforms. I might be willing to waste my own time, but I don't want to waste anyone elses.

Each of these platforms has their own value equation - and cater to a different market. And, as you might expect, the more powerful the features, the greater the learning curve. I'm personally at the point where I need to consolidate. For me, it's going to be LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn is a very powerful tool for connecting with people you already know. Facebook offers more opportunities for connecting with people I've never met, but who share similar interests. Now, that's just me. You can't blast my daughter - or any of her friends - off of MySpace with a cannon.

For my book publishing friends the conundrum is larger. They have to be everywhere there customers are, and if I was in charge of marketing, I'd be looking hard at MySpace, Facebook, and SecondLife to put my marketing dollars.

Oh, and just how does blogging fit into this whole social network thing?

good luck out there.

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