Friday, March 5, 2004

Social Networks

Over the past month or so, I've looked at some of these social networks that have become so popular in the past year. I've looked at Friendster,
LinkedIn, and orkut. Social networks are really neat, but other than that, I'm not sure see a ton of value.
What are they actually good for? LinkedIn is about the best in terms of searching, but their whole business model seems built around the idea of charging you for making multi-step contacts. While I'm not sure I'd pay for it, that's not the part that bothers me. In order to make one of these contacts, they forward the request through each person in the chain. It eliminates much of the convenience which. Why bother?

Orkut, in constrast has pathetic searching, but you can freely browse the networks, but the only connectivity that's shown is your "friends" and "friends of friends". Ok, so when does this become useful? I can see a couple of simple values, but for something that's so neat, it seems like they should be able to actually make it useful.

Update: Ok, having played with these a bit more, I'm still skeptical, but I think I see a few ways in which they're useful:

  • Lost acquaintances. There are people who you've forgotten. Not people you have lost touch with, but people you've forgotten entirely. But, for many of those poeple, someone who are still in touch with is still in touch with them. Then, you can decide whether or not to leave them forgotten. I like the idea of being able to reconnect with people who I've lost touch with and "forgotten"
  • Extended address book. orkut, for example, let's you provide various address info (email, IM, physical, phone) and decide who gets to see it (noone, friends, friends of friends, all). This makes it a useful address book of associates and a somewhat wider network.
  • Friend of a friend postings. Again, orkut provides this capability. Maybe I simply haven't gotten enough of them to be annoyed by it yet, but I think this is a useful idea for distribution of certain kinds of content, particularly job postings.
  • You've got friends! There's that "pat yourself on the back" quality of getting the occasional email that says "so-and-so is your friend". Ah, warm fuzzies.

Now, if only orkut would add more useful searching.

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