Kevin Werbach made a veiled reference to a Spoke connection request I sent him, asking for an introduction to Paul Krugman, whom I’d like to recruit for an O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference panel. I tried Spoke after meeting the CEO, Ben Smith, at the Red Herring Conference last week.
I have another much more direct route to Krugman that I am working on, since it would be good to get him to come speak on at the event sans his usual speaking fees, but since I’m experimenting with social networking technology all the time, why not give Spoke a shot, since it told me that Kevin and two other people I know are somehow connected to Krugman.
Interestingly, the two Spoke connections I’ve tried to mine so far, including CEO Ben Smith, have resulted in the request being sent “outside the Spoke network,” which was mildly irritating, since I have Ben’s business card. Both Krugman links have turned out to be dead ends, since they involved people who had merely sent email to Paul Krugman about his column.
Yet, it is clear that understanding and analyzing a social network can produce big results. As the Washington Post reports today:
The Army general whose forces captured Saddam Hussein said yesterday that he realized as far back as July that the key lay in figuring out the former Iraqi president’s clan and family support structures in and around Hussein’s home city of Tikrit.
Following a strategy similar to that pioneered by New York City police in the 1990s, who cracked down on “squeegee men” only to discover they knew about far more serious criminals, Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno said his analysts and commanders spent the summer building “link diagrams,” graphics showing everyone related to Hussein by blood or tribe.
Arnold Kling wrote in response to Kevin Werbach that he thinks weblogs might just be as good as formal linking services. This is only true in the sense that the connections come cheap, in that they can be advertised on the requester’s blog, but I don’t think they’ll yield better success rates. I have found LinkedIn to be useful for some connections and, based on early use of Spoke, it looks promising, too. In every case, from publicizing the request on a blog to spelunking social networks, I have to make the request public and explicit, which comes at a cost to me that is measured in lost confidentiality, a price that may be too high in many circumstances.
At the same time, what is interesting about the social networking technology is that it forces requests into a semi-public venue, making us think about them more explicitly. I’m not sure that does much in terms of making successful connections today, though it certainly makes the “pain” social networking software hopes to address more explicit.
When I was on the founding board at Match.com, we didn’t know how long people would date, whether they would come back after a failed relationship or anything else that allowed for solid revenue projections for the first 18 – 24 months. I think the social networking folks are facing the same challenge. It remains to be seen if the social networkers will get the capital to learn these lessons, but I am hopeful that they will succeed. In the meantime, it is clear to me that the more purposeful the networking service offered, the more successful it will be in satisfying users’ expectations. If anything, the social networks today are suffering from a lack of clarity about what they offer, so that all sorts of crazy expectations, like the idea that relationships will become frictionless, get lathered onto the term “social networks.”