/Do social networks work?

Do social networks work?

A couple of years ago Google created Orkut, a social network that started a fashion of this kind of tools. It gained users very quickly but it faded away at the same pace, except for the cases of Brazil and Estonia where it became a social phenomenon. MySpace, another social network,started to develop simultaneously and it has currently succeeded in the United States. These cases are quite contradictory.There are many more examples of social networks that failed to succeed than those that have settled down. This is provoked by the fact that internauts don?t like taking part in other networks apart from that that rewards them with some kind of value. With this idea in mind, Russel Beattie, a blogger, decided to cancel his account in LinkedIn in March 2005 (it?s quite complicated to resign from LinkedIn, by the way) because he had to devote part of his time to the network but he wasn’t getting anything in return.Personally, I don?t agree with him. LinkedIn, eConozco or OpenBC have stolen some of my time (very little), but they have helped me to keep in touch with people that I met at certain point and whom, otherwise, I would have ended up forgetting. I do even remember contacting via Orkut a person (the friend of a friend, you know) in order to invite her to take part in a seminar. And it worked.At the same time, I think that we have to admit that relations with other people are the foundations of our social life. Most of us got started in the Internet sending emails, which are still a communications tool. And the messenger is still the number one application for the youngest internauts. Being in touch with people is something that everyone looks for, both on a personal and professional level.Having said this, now it?s the time for the details and reasons why social networks have important constrains:- As acquaintances grow in number, contact lists start to be filled with people that one hardly knows. This equation of ?bigger size equals less quality? decreases considerably the value of the networks. Apart from that, it isn’t easy to deny our friendship to someone who is asking for it.- Most people don?t understand very well the way these networks actually work. We barely manage to accept an invitation and to set our profile, but we find it very complex to exploit the tool in order to have access to other people and make the most of it. What is needed, then, is a training and spreading campaign, which is not going to be carried out spontaneously. The alternative, which is more attainable as well, is to make the network?s interfaces simpler.- Social networks seem to work fine among consultants, above all among those working in the technological field or for multinational firms. But theirs is not the best example of pros whose jobs depend on theirrelations, as it happens with sales people. There aren?t many of them in the big networks, and that goes to show the (subjective) difficulties that exist when it comes to ?sharing? contacts.- As our network expands, more and more people use it merely for job-hunting. This fact doesn?t reduce its quality, but it definitely transforms its original aim, which is related to the management of commercial contacts. Let?s translate it into an example: it?d be like mixing up Neurona (Infojobs related network) with LinkedIn. So it is clear enough that certain social networks must become a bit more elitist and stop inviting any person to take part in them.- The merging of networks with email is currently restricted to the invitations for contacts in contact lists, which not only is risky, it is also very limited. The value of a contact to whom we send emails everyday is not the same as another one to whom we sent one email once. Therefore, the integration of social networks with email programmes should be improved. By the way, Google has made a giant step forwards in this field with Gmail?s interface.Together with this, we have to admit that, apart from their intrinsic advantages, social networks are the access to blogs. It’s quite recommendable to become a user of social networks before starting to blog in order to glance all the possibilities of the Internet with regard to the management of relations. What?s more, social networks are the easiest-to-use fraction out of all the social tools that have spouted out in the Internet.The social networks that are succeeding are those that gather people with the same hobbies and objectives, just like blogs do. Some examples are: Flickr (pictures), Joga.com (football; it is the product of an agreement between Nike and Orkut), MySpace (music), del.icio.us (links), Match.com (contacts), Bilbao.bi (maps), MusicStrands (music) or Amazon (books).