I am an early adopter of social networking technology...the Orkuts, Friendsters, LinkedIns, etc. of the world. Although I am confused by the industry--interpersonal networking has existed since the dawn of time, or at least since the Guilds of the Middle Ages--so who needs a "new" industry for it, and why call it social? I guess that is in social, like group, not social, like fun, although plenty of these groups are purely for that.
I'd been long (Silicon Valley long, perhaps 3 months) been debating the value of these networks, and had joined most of them (Tribe, Orkut, Friendster, LinkedIn, Spoke (the later which I had entirely forgotten until someone saw me on there and wrote me)). I had quickly lost interest in Friendster--so few interesting features and very glitchy--and Tribe--so much bizzare esoterica, posts actively popping up in my face on my page about weird people and way too many parties, and no way to opt out of what I don't want or opt in to what I need.
Orkut took the middle ground, many of my tech friends are on it, most of my friends who are not engineers are not, and have no interest in what they consider a geek's waste of time. I do enjoy the communities, and I occassionally sneak leads, advice, or fun tidbits there. I do not try to actively network with people in my bigger network, since most are there for social good times (I am slightly older and more attached than their obvious target demographic).
LinkedIn has been great fun, it feels exclusive and purposeful and does not encourage silly network groups. I have heard people complain about the lack of network groups, but I quite like it. Of course, the great consensus out there is that everyone is just expanding their network for kicks, and nobody actually uses the system yet. I predict great success to the concept if LinkedIn figures out what to do to add value, and if people like me actually attempt B2B and P2P networking on it.
On an invite, I joined Ryze.com two days ago, hearing that it, too, was business only networking, and was given the impression it was up and coming. So I signed up, slogging through an anti-intuitive user interface. Overnight, I had half a dozen strangers welcoming me, and people I never heard of and had no remote connection to asking to be "my friend." Instantly, I decided that Ryze has the distinction of being categorized the CREEPY network, a distinction I had not initially included in my overabundant two by twos I am sketching about the industry. To be blunt, to me, everything more or less stinks about Ryze, despite the fact my homepage there has an easy link to this blog. The network groups are largely unprofessional and unindexed (although I easily found out how to join groups about drinking, weightlifting, various religions). I have strangers writing in a log book that everyone can see. People can write me, but to write them back, I must use the Ryze interface, and manage everything off the web, as if I truly needed another source of messages to check and use. People keep telling me they get great leads there, so I might stay on. I did go to a face to face Ryze party, in the hopes of learning from others about how they maximize value from it. Mostly, I got glazed looks when I mentioned Ryze, and took that to be a bad bad sign about what is out there. As far as I can tell, it is almost 100% a social network. While I personally believe that having some awareness of who you are outside of work helps me connect to you better (ah! you do yoga, eat low carb, knit, love your cats and read all the time, too, good!), I don't need to join you in a dozen networks to talk all day about those common or synergistic interests.
I did relog on to Spoke, and saw it still seemed like LinkedIn without features or people. That, and it tried to load some nasty software that would help me manage my experience with Spoke.
How many tools like this can I use, especially if so many seem to require high touch interaction, or deep sifting, or special software? I can honestly say that at this stage of experimentation, I could easily spend my entire day surfing and attempting to use these sites, and I am not sure I would derive any competitive advantage from that at all.
My early analysis says that something cool is going on here, but of course I said that about pets.com ('cause pets don't drive), webvan (who should have used " 'cause tech geeks don't shop"), and so many others. Mind you, I thought they were cool but I was once the ONLY bearish analyst on dot coms, and I didn't make many friends in 1998-2000. (I would meet people at the constant stream of cocktail parties then, and one of two things happened: I'd tell them I didn't work in dot com, and they'd slink away, or I told them what I felt about their industry, and they'd RUN away). I digress. Like dot com, social networking is cool. BUT unless someone figures out a. how to make money as the company supplying the service and b. tells ME how I can make money (or derive value that I can equate to money, say increase my free time), then this is doomed to be another silly, silly experiment.
All the dot com signs are there--people religiously defending the industry, no understandable business cases in sight, unrealistic quantitites of attention, time, money thrown to the industry by the early adopters. I do not want to predict doom and gloom this time, too, since I like my little GOOD networks substantially more than I liked the concept of dogpoo.com (I don't make this up, there were FOUR competing suppliers of animal waste at one point).
And no industry has made me draw two by twos, SWOTs, and Five Forces analysis--for fun and during my free time--in a LONG time.