As an online community leader of long-standing (does anybody else remember Plato Homelink?) I was and am pre-disposed towards social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Xing. But as I work with them, I’m finding a few irritations that make the sites less useful than they should be.
One issue is that there’s nothing to show a degree of intimacy. I might link to someone whom I interviewed once, because I figure it’s nice to keep in touch with an expert on, say, software testing. I would also create links to coworkers past and present, the people whom I’ve known and worked with for 15 years. And that doesn’t count the people who believe they’re my best buddy because they once met me at a conference, and it feels rude to refuse them.
The problem is: As far as LinkedIn goes, these have equal weight. That makes the networking component far less useful than it might be. For example, if I want to contact someone through a connection, and I have a few pathways to that individual (the “could you forward this request?” message system), it makes more sense to choose that pathway based on relationship closeness. If, as happened recently, a friend asks, “So what do you know about this dude? Should I do business with him?” I have no earthly idea. Isn’t that a failure in the business-class social networking purpose?
The other problem I’m finding, as my LinkedIn profile creeps past 150 connections (and sheesh, I wasn’t trying!), is a lack of categorization and, in particular, no way to separate the facets of your life. One connection of my buddy Scot Finnie from Computerworld includes his realtor and nearly everyone else in the guy’s life–“probably his masseuse, too,” said Scot. That’s fine, I suppose, but sometimes there are business reasons to separate the personal from the professional. If I were a political activist on my own time, or a closet homosexual, or a past harassment victim, or in any number of other “this isn’t my boss’ business” categories, I would appreciate a selective sharing of information. I might want to find other people who shared my nonwork interests, but only if their profile indicated they actually shared it. I can join “groups,” of course, but I don’t think there’s a way to control whether others see that membership.
I’m not sure how
to carry this off, exactly, but I do find that I want it, and it keeps me from using the social networks as extensively as I might otherwise.