Pierre Omidyar and Esther Dyson
both complain about getting spammed by invitations through
business-oriented social networking services such as LinkedIn.
This brings up two fundamental problems with these services.
First, the most connected people need them the least. Esther and
Pierre don’t need LinkedIn to reach pretty much anyone they want to
contact. Yet there are a whole lot of folks who want to reach
them, and don’t have a personal connection to do so. So the
service worsens their email overload with little corresponding benefit.
I’m somewhat in the same boat. I’m certainly not as well-known as
Esther and Pierre, but I have a pretty good network in the tech
industry. I haven’t yet found a situation where LinkedIn got me
to someone I couldn’t reach directly, by Googling for an email address,
or by guessing a mutual connection.
The second problem is that the social networking services don’t have a
field for “do I really know this individual personally?” Having
someone’s email address in Outlook isn’t necessarily a proxy for a
relationship. Yesterday I got a request through Spoke to forward
an invitation to Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist. I
knew both the sender and the next person in the chain, and the request
was reasonable, so I forwarded it on. The recipient wrote back to
say that his only link to Krugman was sending him one email last year
commenting on a column. Krugman never responded. Not
exactly a “trusted connection.”
If these services really want to be useful for business networking,
they will have to incorporate features that add more granularity and
control. The challenge is that doing so requires more effort on
the part of the participants, which mitigates the benefits the services
provide in the first place.