By Dennis D. McDonald
Alex Iskold has an interesting analysis in his article LinkedIn and The Impending Challenge of Facebook. He presents data that compares and contrasts Linkedin and Facebook, two widely used social networking systems.
LinkedIn basically appeals to professional networking. Facebook may be evolving from an initial emphasis on networking among college students. Iskold believes that Facebook may at some point compete with LinkedIn as college students enter the work force and bring with them their penchant for online networking.
For me the most telling difference between LinkedIn and Facebook is that Facebook is, literally, a social networking site. It facilitates communication among individuals. LinkedIn's support for person to person communication is less direct, especially when groups are involved. For example, if a group of LinkedIn members want to set up an affinity group of some sort, it’s not unusual for them to establish a group outside LinkedIn using Yahoo! Groups; that way a variety of tools for group messaging, threaded email, and file storage become available, tools that LinkedIn does not provide.
I'm not so sure that's a bad idea. I for one don't feel comfortable about a networking site serving as a central location for all my communication and networking needs. This has less to do with privacy than with the fact that individuals belong to multiple networks of varying degrees of connectedness. Since all a person's groups don't have the same focus, members, or goals, it seems natural for multiple systems to evolve to handle diverse networking needs.
While it is possible that Facebook might some day challenge LinkedIn for supremacy in professional networking among young professionals, I think it's just as likely that a totally separate networking system or infrastructure might develop. My reason for believing this is in line with one of Iskold's complaints that LinkedIn does not allow for recording or managing the strengths of one's relationships.
This is one area where LinkedIn has, I believe, fallen down on the job. Partly this is because in Linkedin there is no direct way to tag relationships with a field such as relationships strength, and partly because the concept of trusted connections, an initial foundation of the LinkedIn approach, has been watered down over the years by members maximizing the number of connections they make online without necessarily getting to know the people who accept connection requests. Since LinkedIn to some extent uses the existence of one-to-one connections to facilitate communications among members (for example, members can be asked to pass along requests and questions from connection to connection) the inability to evaluate connections between people in terms of levels of strength or trust makes networking via LinkedIn less effective than it might be.
On the other hand, it may be unrealistic to suppose that any web based and remotely managed networking system can ever accurately reflect the true nature of person to person communications. This is why I personally believe that the future of social networking (and social media) lies not with all encompassing universal systems but with smaller numbers of more specialized networks that can interconnect while at the same time reflecting the individual nature of real social and professional networks and relationships.
Number One Son attended a wedding of some young Mexican professionals over the weekend on a small island near Cancun, Mexico. A good time was had by all. As time approached for the revelers to go home, the Mexicans and visiting Americans gathered to contemplate how to share the multitude of digital photos everyone had been taking for the past few days. One of the Americans floated a complicated plan for exchanging photos as attachments to emails, but one of the Mexican hosts said, "That's crazy -- let's just use Facebook!"
By Dennis D. McDonald