The Return of Social Networking?

Posted on 26. Jan, 2006 by in Business

You might ask yourself if the title to this post is correct – the return to social networking? But I thought social networking was a relatively new thing? I thought so too at first, but after some research and casual observations, I believe that social networking is just now making a comeback.

I was reading netzkobol.de and his post entitled “social software and plazes” in which he lists a number of recent social networking tools – including the beta Plazes. Reading his post reminded me of a recent consulting engagement in which I helped explore the possibility of a local company starting a new social networking tool or product.

Naturally the first thing you do in such a situation is research what social networking is exactly. There are many different definitions out there, but I’m going to go ahead and use my friend Wikipedia:

A social network is a social structure between actors, mostly individuals or organizations. It indicates the ways in which they are connected through various social familiarities ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds.

The way most people think of social networking today is actually more appropriately termed “social software” with the usual suspects coming to mind:

Some help people to come together online around shared interests or causes. For example, some dating services let users post their personal profiles, location, age, gender, etc, and help them search for a partner. Similarly, some social bookmarking services allow users to post their list of bookmarks�or favorite websites�for others to search and view, so that they can locate resources identified by others who share the same interests as useful.

With the onslaught of social networking software (especially with the start of this Web 2.0 craze), I have seen an interesting trend begin to emerge. If you think back to the “good ‘ol days” – you know, those ones where a Big Mac only cost a nickel? In those days, business revolved and almost depended on social networking to survive. Business decisions weren’t made over the phone or through an email, they were made in person with a handshake and a signature. You built relationships with people by meeting them, sharing a drink or dinner, and carrying on a half-way meaningful conversation.

Then came the Internet, email, IM services, etc. and the “social” part of social networking dissapeared. We entered a time in which we would exchange emails on a daily basis withe a coworker in the next building who we never met. We began to cut ourselves off from society by relying on technology to do the work for us. Handshakes were replaced by “TTYL” and dinner was replaced with an email. In a way our online personalities were networking for us as we watched like spectators.

However, as I mentioned before, it seems as though we though social networking is making a comeback. Now we care, with an almost obsesive-compulsive zealotry where people are. We have to know everything about everybody by reading their latest news on blogs, MySpace profiles, and online diaries. We want to be alerted by text-message when a friend is nearby, and we want to be able to instantly connect to a community of some kind. The “social” aspect of networking is making an aggressive comeback. People are realizing that the Internet was not the solution for everything and not an excuse to stay at home and control our life through a tethered mouse. People are important. In business, in social scenes, in family life – people are the most important.

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