Monday, December 31, 2007

Networking 101

Successful networking has one hard and fast rule. If you know nothing about networking, if you can't remember all the ideas of how to meet people, if you are awkward in real life and can only network online, if you can never think of something clever to say -- whatever your handicap -- it doesn't matter. You need to remember only one thing:

Networking is about what you give, not what you get.

I was fortunate enough to that at one of the first pure networking events I attended, and it's the bottom-line truth. You can immediately identify the person who mingles at a networking event and is focused on the next person they will meet rather than the person they are talking to right now. Everyone knows someone who only calls when they need something. Those people aren't going to get much cooperation when they call on you for a favor.

Actually, I was just joking with a colleague about someone we know who only stays in touch if he thinks he can get something from the relationship. We agreed that we love the guy and we laughed it, rather than being annoyed. After some thought, I realized he can get away with it because he will always, but always, take your call if you need him. So he won't call just to gab; but he also doesn't expect you to, and he will always be on the lookout for how he can help you.

Actually, a few years back, someone told me about an interesting study which showed that women tended to focus their networking on higher-ups, rather than on peers or people lower on the ladder than they are, and this limited their ability to leverage the network. One reason is that a network is an investment, not a loan. The other reason is that you really don't know who will help you, and you don't know who will be promoted tomorrow. Everyone is worth investing in, regardless of their ability to help you.

I actually heard a talk-show host who, while interviewing Tom Hanks, told him he had started out as an assistant in the office, and he remembers bringing Tom some coffee. Tom Hank's immediate reaction was "Please tell me I was nice to you."

That's networking. Whenever you meet someone, whether it be F2F or virtually, the first thing in your mind should be "how could I help this person?". It could be on a personal or professional level, or just telling him where there's a good restaurant nearby. You have something to contribute; don't be stingy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Often people tell me that social networking is a huge time-sink. Okay, so they use the phrase "waste of time". I explain to them that it's not a waste of time; it just isn't any more efficient than regular F2F networking. F2F networking involves being in the same physical space with an arbitrary collection of real people and introducting yourself.

However, I am beginning to think that is incorrect; that social networking is better at managing and strengthening ties.

Today I had a first-time meeting with Kfir Pravda. I ran into him at a networking event that was publicized on Facebook. IOW, I would not have met him if it weren't for Facebook. The funny thing about that is that over lunch, we discovered that not only do we both work in the same field, we basically know all the same people, live less than 5 kilometers apart, and have even worked at the same company. IOW, eventually, we would have met even with out FB.

So back to the topic. In a room filled with arbitrary people, you are attracted to those who are "like" you in some way (unless you are a very professional networker and force yourself to introduce yourself to people who are unattractive, which I admit to having done.).

In a social networking space, I believe you are even more attracted to people like you. Not that there's anything wrong with that. This means that our social groups are going have multiple ways to connect with one another. It will strengthen the ties within that social group, and we are going to have a better grasp of the group's size and scope.

I see that already with my synagogue. I opened up a Facebook group for us, and it creates a way to remember people's names, and it gives us topics of conversations when we meet up on Saturdays. Even if you don't look into the other person's interests or write on their walls, you at least can joke about their being your Facebook friend.

In theory, I could dramatically extend my network on FB, LinkedIn, Ning, Plaxo, etc., to people I wouldn't normally meet. In fact, that isn't what is happening. Instead, I find am casting the same size net, but getting more of the fish in the vicinity of the net.

Although I encounter people of a wide variety over the social networking sites, it turns out that in fact, I am not really connecting with them. It's pretty much the same as striking up a conversation with the person behind you in the supermarket. Most likely you won't get beyond smalltalk because you don't have much in common.

Where social networking is effective reflects an ongoing icebreaker game. Here is someone you know, or who is in the same social or professional circle, and here is a tool to keep the conversation rolling.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Touchy Feely

This week, a longtime (male) colleague sent me a "KissMe" request on Facebook. I thought about it for a second -- should I return the kiss ("Yeah, Baby" is the button you need to click) or ignore, or reject? What does it mean if someone sends me a kiss? Are they hinting at something? And so on.

After a few seconds, I thought, what am I thinking about? It's not an actual real kiss. It's a couple of bits on the computer. How hung up am I? To what levels am I going to take frigidity? Yeah, Baby! Return the kiss!

Later on in the week, I saw the friend had updated his status message to say that if people had to ask what a New Year's Kiss was, they were risking not getting the kiss. Yes, he was just being friendly and sending a New Year's Greeting to all his buddies. I was quite thankful that I wasn't so hung up as to be afraid of sending a few bytes to a colleague. Phew.

OTOH, last week someone new friended me, and then started sending me dozens of requests for kisses, hugs, adding applications, etc. Forget the fact that this could be construed as a come-on and is a hassle to deal with. I mean, if you make new friends, sometimes people will come on to you. Nothing wrong with that. The bottom line is, hey, you are a loser if you are spending that much time trying to get non-real kisses and hugs. Get a life. I rapidly unfriended the guy, and lost nothing in the transaction.

Bottom line: if you are using Facebook for making friends, loosen up. And if you are using Facebook for networking, you also should loosen up. Nobody can really DO anything to you on Facebook. Loosen up. You can always rid your profile of people you don't want but first, reach out. It can't hurt. Really.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Facelift: Video on your wall

Shared media creates a common language. If we've seen the same movies, read the same blogs and heard the same news, we have a common culture and frame of reference. In this context, the Facebook Wall features are great. You meet someone new, or someone old, and you know something about their frame of reference. I am quite happy to get all kinds of interesting videos, graffiti, etc. on my wall.

Unfortunately, some people use little discretion in what they post on their wall, or what they send to others' walls. For anyone who hasn't got perspective on this yet, one sentence should do: My boss is one of my Facebook contacts. If that sentence wasn't enough, consider that your boss is probably on Facebook too.

You know, I like nudity as much as the next person, and I have heard and laughed at many a dirty joke. But do I want them displayed where past, present and future business associates can take a look and see what level I will stoop to? I think not.

Long ago, I managed to train all my real friends not to forward junk to my inbox. Occasionally, friends send things they know I personally will like. The only people who send me "inappropriate" jokes are people who know me really, really well, and know just what kind of inappropriate is funny to me. And, of course, that is my private e-mail inbox that my boss and IT manager aren't looking at.

The other thing that absolutely amazes me is WHO sends me these posts. On Facebook, the people who send me the most inappropriate posts are people who I know briefly through networking. This amazes me most of all. Supposedly, they are connected to me for business networking purposes (otherwise they would have asked me to coffee by now). I assure you that posting a video called "Stripping" on a business associate's wall will not make a positive professional impression. Especially if the associate is a woman.

Also, chain letters. Why are you sending me a chain letter if we are barely friends? Is it too obnoxious to send your real friend a chain letter--but you are afraid to be cursed with 1000 years of bad luck for not forwarding it? I get it, you want to curse me with the bad luck and not one of your actual friends. That's something that is sure to make a good impression on me.

And that teddy bear who is travelling around the world? Hello people, he is not travelling anywhere. Absolutely nothing will be achieved by posting him on someone else's wall.

If you want to say hi, there is poking, hugging, waving, and sending messages. If you want to create a common language, do please post on my wall. But don't just forward me garbage to remind me of your existence or because it is easy. You will be defriended.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Physical Media Sucks

My video consumption habits are embarrassing. Firstly, I don't own a television set. Secondly, I don't download illegal videos. I actually go down to the store and rent a video (which I see on my PowerBook, rendering my Mac un-cool at least for the duration of the movie).

I pay for my music, too. I am not embarrassed to admit that I have had an e-music subscription for something like 3 years. E-music is consistently ignored as a major music downloading site, but they are probably the closest competitor to iTunes in downloads -- only they charge a quarter of the price so in revenues they are much lower. Oh, yeah, and no DRM.

I pay for this stuff because, well, frankly, I've made a lot of money in the software business, and people in glass houses... At any rate, I do think that artists and writers should be fairly compensated, and I don't mind paying something reasonable for my entertainment. (After all, I have no cable or satellite charges.)

But I am close to giving up on renting DVDs. Forget that the price still is outrageous and the selection is limited. The real problem is that the physical media sucks. I rented 3 videos this weekend. All 3 were scratched, damaged or otherwise compromised.

Okay, so the video shop compensated me or gave me another copy; but there is no compensation for sitting on a cold, rainy night on the couch with your family only to have the DVD bug out an hour into the movie.

I wish there were an e-music for video content. If anyone knows of one, let me know. I would rather see movies with fewer special effects at affordable prices, downloadable without worrying about security risks to my computer. One way or another, though, I am done with physical media. I have a feeling I will be able to find a much wider selection outside the video store.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Advertising's diminishing returns

"Did you get any good ones?" I asked my 7-year-old son as he opened his pack of sports player cards.
"I got one of the coaches," said Tevel.
"Hey, what's that on the back of the card?" I ask.
"Oh, it's just an ad," he answers. "Well, not really an ad, but like an ad."
Nothing impressive in that, except that my second-grader not only recognizes an ad, but he recognizes the difference between a third-party ad and a self-promotional ad. He doesn't know the terminology, but he knows the precise difference.

A friend of mine said he doesn't understand Facebook's business model. I said advertising, and he said "I don't see any advertising in Facebook." I am sure he doesn't. It is there, but he doesn't see it.

Advertising is becoming more pervasive. It is getting bigger, louder, more dynamic. It jumps around to get your attention.

We are getting better at tuning out. We will never perfect tuning out, but it is clear that getting our attention is more expensive than it used to be. For consumers, getting expert opinions and reviews is easier and cheaper than it used to be.

At what stage will advertising become pointless? It's hard to actually imagine, but it seems to me that the point of diminishing returns is approaching. At what point will advertising business models be less appealing?

I'm aware I am taking this idea to an extreme, but how extreme is it really? How much is advertising affecting your decisions in actuality?

I'll tell you about some reverse situations in my next entry. I was actually looking for a vendor who advertised and couldn't find anyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Beacon: even less appealing than Spam

Considering the level of intrusiveness of Beacon, there is a high level of complacency regarding Beacon, and an unjustified level of faith that it will just go away because of its lack of popularity. The Facebook group protesting Beacon has only 55 users.

I've got news for you. If you know what Beacon is, you are in the minority of Facebook users. Most Facebook users don't know, will never know, and will never care. That is why it is ludicrous to suggest that there should be an "opt out" feature. It is even more ludicrous to suggest that Facebook will back down from the Beacon.

Despite initial reluctance, and taking some minor steps back from its original plans (and you can bet it will step back up in the future), Beacon will go ahead as planned. Over time, the few people who even noticed its existence will get used to it, or opt out of Facebook. And over time, the big brands will recognize that nobody cares anymore and they will all opt into Beacon.

It dismays me to see how the big social networking guys are dealing with this. They are blogging about it. They are setting up groups against it. They are telling anyone who will listen how to block it.

They aren't quitting Facebook. Gentlemen, and I respect and love you all, but you are behaving like crack addicts. You complain about the damage to your health but you ain't quitting.

Believe me, if Jeff Pulver sends a message to all 4000 of his friends that he is moving over to MySpace (or wherever), 90% of us will up and follow him. If he and Robert Scoble did it, all of us would move. Until they do, though, none of the rest of us can afford to.

Facebook is making some clear strategy statements in its developments. One, it is a closed system. You can't export your friends or applications. Two, your privacy will be eroded over time. No protest is going to change that, because those are the basic inherent features and architecture of the Facebook philosophy of How It's Going to Work.

Beacon will not go away. It will only get stronger and more invasive over time. The people who are complaining are fewer than 1% of users. They may think they are the "influential" users, but so far, well, let's just say I am not impressed by the influence on Facebook.

IMNVHO, the only solution is to leave Facebook, and only the thought leaders can do it. If they don't, I predict that within 3 months we will forget that Beacon ever existed, but the advertisers won't.