Is ‘social networking’ the next app?

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Several times in the past few months, my in-box has contained requests for me to join one or another “social network.” Some requests have come from friends and colleagues, others have come from unknown individuals. (I should report that I haven’t accepted any of these offers; more on that in a bit.)

If you haven’t heard, online social networking, first popularized by consumer-oriented and, seeks to widen your social sphere by connecting you to people known to your friends, and from them to friends of these friends and so on, and so on. ...

More recently, business-centric networks such as,, (acquired last month by IAC/InterActive) and have emerged.

As of last week, LinkedIn claimed that each new registrant in its system can reach, at four degrees of separation, more than 50,000 individuals through a chain of referrals (or more than 24,400 without a referral).

One key difference: LinkedIn and its competitors are Web services marketed to individuals. Products such as Visible Path from Visible Path Corp. and similar tools are enterprise software—they can read contact databases, enterprisewide, and share them with the company network. The enterprise systems in particular are growing increasingly sophisticated. For example, Visible Path’s system probes employee e-mail, instant messaging, calendars and address books to map relationships, and can rank employees whose supplied contacts have resulted in sales. (Employees can choose not to participate in the system.)

Advocates of both enterprise systems and public services claim they help them reach prospects more efficiently, increasing close rates and even boosting average deal sizes. The improvements are easy to understand, they say, when you consider that the networks replace impersonal cold calls with personal introductions—albeit mediated by up to six degrees of separation.

Now to the question why I’ve declined to participate. It’s certainly not because I’m shy. No, sadly I think my reticence is another repercussion of spam—a practically knee-jerk reaction not to opt in for something that might result in more flotsam and jetsam in my in-box. Do you think I’m missing something?

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