Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm LinkedIn!

Yet another Social Networking thing, this one courtesy of Josh. LinkedIn is a professional networking site; it operates a lot like Friendster or the Facebook, but is geared towards professionals. You create a work history, list skills, and connect with current and previous co-workers. The goal, again, is much like other social networking sites: it isn't so much who you know, it's who you know knows. The hope is that if I'm looking for a job, and Josh's employer's former CEO is looking for a mobile developer, I'll be a stronger candidate if I can say "My friend works for Steve" than "I saw your job posting on"

I appreciate the flexibility the site gives you when signing up. Contrary to my above example, I'm not really interested in other opportunities at this time, so I can just uncheck the fields which allow other people to contact me about opportunities, while leaving checked the fields that let other people find and network with me.

Bottom line, it's yet another networking site, but a pretty interesting and well-designed one with a good focus. If you're interested in professional networking, this is a good way to do it, especially if all your previous jobs were thousands of miles away. Feel free to add me to your network, even if we've never worked together.

After an initial flurry of activity on Facebook, I've largely settled down, now just checking in every few weeks to see if anything interesting is happening. I get the feeling this would be a lot more important if I was still in school; as it is, though, people seem content to just set things up and then leave them alone. I'm not necessarily disappointed or anything. When it comes to Facebook, I'm thinking of it as more of a semi-static registry than an active content site. It's more a way for people I've lost touch with to find me again than anything else. (Why would anyone WANT to do that once they've succeeded in shaking me off their trail? That's a question for the scholars.)

There's a fair amount I like about Facebook. The "Pulse"/trends section is the single neatest thing on there - you can track what's currently popular at your school (or geography) as opposed to the national average. The week-to-week tracking provides slick indications of rising and falling popularity. In some ways, I feel that this objectively demonstrates how Wash U is a superior school, in that Arrested Development is far more popular there (#6 versus non-ranking), The Beatles get their props (#1 in music instead of freakin' DMB), they show good literary taste (Catcher in the Rye, Great Gatsby, Catch-22, 1984, Ender's Game all in the Top 10; though not The Bible or, oddly, Lord of the Rings), etc.

One thing that's been a little weird is wondering who to Friend. One of the first things I did was flip through my class year and see who was already on there. (I'm way more likely to make connections with someone who's already on one of these sites; less likely to convince someone to sign up who isn't in already.) Some people were really easy to Friend; other times, I hesitated. Was just knowing someone enough to consider them a "friend"? What if I went to their party but never really hung out? What if we shared a class and chatted there but never spoke outside? I ended up choosing the "cautious" side and not initiating anything. This seems really absurd on its face; the only logical explanation is that I'm afraid of rejection, and it's especially silly since it's all done online and in any case I probably won't see any of these people again. Part is just confusion over what people consider "Friends", both on this site and in general. I want to go with the flow and not weird anyone out by claiming a too-close relationship, or offend anyone by seeming to ignore them.

In the end, it has all worked out in that pretty much everyone who I did not initially Friend has by now Friended me. I noticed that, almost invariably, these people have much larger networks than me or the people I directly Friended.

And that's extremely cool, because it made me realize that the Facebook is basically a live, interactive version of Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point." His whole thesis is that there are a small number of people, Connectors, who are responsible for grouping together a large number of people who otherwise would have nothing in common. Where most people probably have (picking a number more or less at random because I don't have the book here) around 10 people who they would consider good friends, these few can easily have more than 100. They are the people who chat with strangers on the first day of class, who stop by the new guy's cubicle, who know when everyone's birthday is and make sure to do something special. These people love collecting people the same way I love collecting books or remixes of "Dreaming".

That dynamic is totally visible on Facebook. The networks are a bit larger, because people seem more comfortable Friending acquaintances, but if you browse your network you will probably find one or two people with networks an order of magnitude larger than your own. (Or an order of magnitude smaller, in which case you yourself are the connector!) Most likely you don't feel as close to these people as you do the others on your list, but because they know so many people they expand your network more than everyone else combined.

That same dynamic is true on LinkedIn. One of my contacts, Josh, has 9 other connections. Two more, Wade and Nate, have 2 (namely Josh and me - it'll definitely grow if they decide to actually fill this thing out). And the fourth, Pramod Shintri, has over 500. Pramod actually invited me to LinkedIn several months ago; he is a recruiter for Google Mobile. I passed, mainly because I wasn't interested in a job and wasn't too clear on what LinkedIn was, but the invite was waiting for me when I finally signed up so I went ahead and accepted it. Now, granted, Pramod probably doesn't remember me at all or know me from Adam, so in a way those connections are almost useless. But it powerfully demonstrates the great ability for connectors to sweep people into their circle. It's probably safe to say that every mobile software developer in Silicon Valley is within two or three degrees of Pramod, and that's incredibly useful for someone in his job.

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