Bring me my social networking
August 22, 2004
One day last year, I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in midtown Manhattan with two friends. It was pouring rain outside, and we were in low-energy mode. We were idly thinking about going to see a movie at the theater across the street, but had no idea what was playing or when. Our next best plan was to go somewhere for a drink before dinner — but again, no one had any good ideas about where. I also needed to check my email to catch up on tentative plans with an acquaintance further uptown — a guy I knew well enough to exchange email with, but not well enough to have his phone number — but I didn’t have a computer or network access closer than my friends’ room upstairs. And of course I was sitting there thinking, “Dammit! It’s 2003, and the Interweb still sucks!”
That’s what social networking should be, and unfortunately still isn’t. In the long run, I don’t actually give a rat’s ass what my friends’ favorite TV shows are — because I never watch TV with them. Social networking has to be useful and able to solve real problems, not just be a cute (or pornographic) time-waster.
Of my interactions with social networking, the most positive ones so far have been (excluding blogs):
1) Career contacts via LinkedIn. These have been almost all of high quality, and save significant time for both me and the hiring manager. Not that I’m looking for a job right now, but it’s always nice to know what’s out there; and the introduction aspect is very valuable for this use-case.
2) Being able to route new contacts through Friendster. I love being able to say “Send me a Friendster message” to people I meet through the blogosphere or conferences, instead of having to give out my real email address or IM nick or phone number on the public Internet. And did you know you can now block Friendster messages from undesirable acquaintances?
3) Finding out via an Orkut group that one of my friends had quit his job. He was so busy he didn’t bother to let me know his lame self via phone, email, blog, or carrier pigeon.
Given how much time I spent on social software, that’s a pretty disappointing payoff. Unfortunately, I don’t just get to bitch about it… I’m supposed to be making things better. So help me out here: what social experiences could be usefully intermediated by a service like Friendster, but aren’t yet?