Monday, February 25, 2008

Geek on the Town

Before Facebook, it had been many years since I had been invited to cool parties in Tel Aviv. But now, I just join the right group, and voila, I am "invited" to lots of "private" parties. Not only am I invited to them, but I can see which of my friends go to them, and according to Facebook, my friends party a lot more than I realized (or expected). Furthermore, people like Jeff Pulver and Chris Brogan are telling me that the more virtual you are, the more you need to get out and meet real people.

So, under all this newly-found peer pressure (mostly from people I didn't even know were my peers 6 months ago), I persuaded a friend to join me at an event called "Networking and Nightlife". With that kind of a name, potentially two things could happen. One is that I could meet business associates, and the other is that I could meet guys. Since the event was at a place called "Whisky-a-Gogo", I decided to go with the tight-fitting sweater rather than the shirt and jacket.

The first thing that I learned about human nature is that no matter how great you feel and look, when you see the bouncer at the door, you are automatically hit by a wave of doubt about whether you are cool enough to get in. I am positive this is a throwback from high school, when there were cool people and geek people. Suddenly, I found myself thinking "Uh-oh, I was invited by a Facebook friend who I couldn't even pick from a lineup." Thankfully, my wardrobe choice and mentioning Facebook were enough to get me in.

The place itself was fantastic, and the crowd was just my style. That is, there were more glasses on people's noses than on the bar. The over-30 geek-o-rama, now there's a crowed of guys to whom I can relate. After a while a fair number of us were dancing, too.

Freed from the shackles of my youth, I found that I no longer need to be drunk to dance, which is fortunate since I no longer drink. I figure my fellow partiers are either to drunk to notice I have no dancing talent, or assume I am too drunk to care. To anyone who knows me well enough to know I don't drink, being a poor yet enthusiastic dancer can only do good things for my reputation. Plus, I had an awesome time.

If you were at this party, and you weren't dancing, you do have to ask yourself, what were you doing there? It was not the kind of place where you could hold a conversation. There are better places in the port for chitchatting with your friends.

I can tell you what you weren't doing there. You weren't picking up a date. I am not complaining that I wasn't hit on, and neither were any of the (RL) friends I met there. I was looking around the room, and even the very eligible-looking guys and gals were not being hit upon, nor were they doing much hitting. I suspect there were some exceptions, but none of the ones I had my eye on had any major hitting going on. And although the place was absolutely packed by 11, by midnight it had thinned out again.

Needless to say, I woke up in the morning, hangoverless, next to my cat, Foo. I stumbled downstairs to find my floor looking like half a dozen 10-year-olds had been doing arts and crafts on my kitchen table. At least they cleared the countertops.

All of this finally brings me around to my point about the high-tech party scene. Especially the scene for middle-aged geeks like myself. A bunch of the people in my age group are coming around to the point where they are single again, so I think this observation may be helpful to some of you.

The whole culture of inviting "friends" to events through social networks is great fun, but has a twang of "Revenge of the Nerds". Now we've got our own parties, and if you don't have a blog, you are not invited! We are going to get back at all those people who snubbed us in high school, now that we have the bandwidth and the cash! And we are going to party it up, yes we are!!!

Psst, guys... listen, we aren't that kind of cool. We know how to enjoy a good party now and again, but we just aren't that kind of cool.

And who would want to be? Wouldn't you rather read a good scifi novel or play a MMOG? If you want to be in a loud and crowded room, what's wrong with VON or CeBit?

It is true that those places aren't prime for hook-ups. But, at least from the behavior I observed at this very hot pub, full of very hot geeks, if you are looking to poke someone, your chances are better on Facebook.

Nuff said.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Virtual Mobility

My children are virtually mobile. What I mean by virtually mobile is that they can move from social network to social network without losing their friends.

I once read an article that said that kids have multiple e-mail addresses and/or messenger IDs, and I just couldn't imagine that. Changing e-mail addresses is so painful to me that I don't tell any of my actual friends what my work address is. I own a domain name, and that is where my main e-mail is.

I use a number of social networks. A large number. I wish they were coordinated, but they are not, so I have separate and overlapping sets of contacts/colleages/links/friends/younameits. At least 3 of those networks would be hard for me to abandon easily. Anyone who has played an online multi-player game knows the pain of having to tell your virtual friends you are leaving. That is virtual immobility.

My children, however, are virtually mobile. I thought I had solved some problems when I signed them both up for gmail, so they could correspond with their relatives overseas. Everyone was happy with that for about a week, until the kids saw me using Facebook.

So I set them up with a Facebook account. My mom and siblings duly got Facebook accounts to connect with my kids. (One of my sisters appears to use it also to communicate with her in-laws, a thought I find even more horrifying than using it to communicate with my mother.) My kids stopped looking at their gmail and started looking only at Facebook, because 7-year-olds apparently aren't into writing long letters, but sending a hatching dragon or throwing a plate of virtual spaghetti is appealing.

That was all good and fine, until kids in the class started getting webkinz, which is a kind of stuffed animal who lives in a virtual habitat at In this virtual world, the animal has a job, a home, and apparently FRIENDS. When you come to think of this, what are you going to say to your friend about your day when you just spent the whole of it in school together, and then after school together? Nothing. But your pet walrus might have something to send to the friend's pet marabou.

One day, webkinz will not be the thing. Some other social network will be the thing. But for my kids, it doesn't matter. They see their friends every day. They'll immediately know the social network du jour. That makes them virtually mobile.

Apparently, being virtually mobile is in inverse proportion to how geographically mobile you are. My kids don't have many friends in other schools, much less other towns or countries. Most of my friends work and live in a different location from me, and that makes all the difference in my virtual mobility.

Which brings me back to nagging my kids to return letters in their Gmail and to check Facebook to see if Grandma sent a hatching dragon. I guess parenting hasn't changed that much since I was a kid.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Not Super Fun

I hereby announce the removal of my FunWall and SuperWall. If the interface makes it so hard to send a birthday card that everyone EXCEPT the intended recipient gets the card, the application is functionally useless.

On the one hand, I can't actually be sure who I send anything to. On the other hand, I can't be sure anyone actually intended to send me something. As far as I am concerned, that basically means the product does not perform any function.

Frankly, most of the applications on Facebook don't do much of anything other than ask you to get your friends to join them. I've tried a lot of applications.

Most of the applications send something to your friend. Nice. I can send you text, pictures, sounds, or video. I can't really send you chocolate or a hug. I can send you a picture of chocolate. I can send you a picture of a kiss, or of something more lewd, but I can't send you a real anything. I can send you virtual good Karma. Can Karma actually be good if it is virtual? Can it be good if it is Viral Karma? Let me just give a hint to the people developing one more app to send one more thing... thanks but no thanks.

Causes, eh. I haven't seen anyone leverage them.
Comparing taste/knowledge in certain areas: has potential for strengthening friendships, but not much.
Games, now there is something I can, um, use. And I do mean use. I'm an addict.

The potentially useful applications are for meeting people. Honestly speaking, however, most people are only using these for dating. Nobody is using the "Meet New People" application to find professional colleagues or even like-minded friends to share with.

But the real problem and downfall of all the applications is that the developers render them completely useless by insisting you add 20 of your friends in order to use them. They don't just ask you to do that when you join the application, but at every possible juncture. You can't play a game without being asked to challenge your friends. You can't send Good Karma without being told your Karma is only as good as the number of people you spam with more Good Viral Karma. You can't see someone's profile picture without links to applications YOU added that you could force them to add too (yes, I have set those so I don't see them, but...)

The bottom line is that these applications don't understand about creating real value. Real value is knowing my friends' birthday. Real value is meeting new people. If you create real value, I will really want to invite my friends to use your application, or they'll see it on my profile and want it. If you aren't creating real value, you might want to ask yourself what you are doing.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The State of Networking in JewLand

Last Thursday was a marathon networking day for me. I started out at the Herzelia Open Coffee Club , arranged by Tilly Kalisky of Greylock Partners. Later that afternoon I had coffee with some colleagues, and topped off the evening with the Digital Eve Israel speed networking event.

My main observation is , over the past few years, Israelis have come an extremely long way when it comes to networking. The country used to be much more dominated by closed networks, where being in something called "shmoneh matayim" made all the difference. (Sorry, even if I knew what it meant, I couldn't tell you.)

No longer. From the events I attended, it is overwhelmingly clear that getting into the club is no longer as hard as it once was, and the club members are openly and happily going out to networking events to meet the rest of the world.

Just a couple years ago, I used to get slightly off-kilter looks when I introduced myself to a stranger at a professional event. Now I get a firm handshake. Some people are still slightly shy about it, but no more shy than anywhere else in the world.

I wonder to myself how much social networking tools have contributed to this. LinkedIn and Plaxo have been popular here for several years, and that certainly started to get people to loosen up about collecting contacts. However, I think things really clicked into place with Facebook, when we all learned that it's easy to make new friends with people you don't know.

Whatever it was, professional networking has taken a big step up, to the benefit of all.