Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roaming Salsa

The concierge recommended a club in LA where we could both eat Cuban cuisine and dance to a live Salsa band, but when we got there, the joint was empty, in a seedy neighborhood, and the proprieter had had a tiff with the band leader, so there was no music. So there we were: myself, my boss, a colleague whose booth we were sharing, and his PR agent, somewhere in LA, hungry and without a dance floor.

First thing's first: one of us whips out a phone with a GPS and we start looking for a place to eat. Easy-peasy, you might think. The problem is, all you get is the name of the place. No star rating, no description of the cuisine, no pricing, nothing. Just a name and a street. Eventually we gave up on that and just picked a restaurant that looked nice and had a lot of customers in it.

Next, we started to try to figure out where to go Salsa dancing. Now, we had already looked on Google, and this first place didn't work out, but what else could we do? Actually, none of us wanted to surf to look for a place because roaming charges for data are so outrageous, it's cheaper wasting petrol than accessing the internet. So we asked around, and were instructed to drive about 15 minutes to a place which we found to be... closed. Again.

At this point, the one member of our group with a US phone made some attempts to surf and find something suitable, with no success.

I had a similar problem the next day, looking for a hotel in Chicago (more about my new life in a future post). The important and relevant parameters to me were: price, proximity to public transport, and shuttle to the airport. It was simply impossible to search with those parameters. In the end, I asked some friends and was directed to somewhere just great. I had to order on the phone, though, since you can't order online for the same night because it takes time to process.

I could add to that my failed attempts to find a good British Pub online during my London stay, my inability to locate a printer in Anaheim through the Internet, and a slew of other informational and technological disappiontments.

In theory, we should have never had to ask a concierge, the girl on the street, or the friend about hotels or restaurants. In theory, it should have been easy to find an open dance club, and maybe even get some live video of the dance floor. In theory, it shouldn't take 10 minutes, much less 10 hours, to process my online order for a hotel. In theory, restaraunt star ratings could be incorporated into your GPS listing. And, mostly, in theory, it should not cost an outrageous sum to surf the internet just because you are out of your "home" mobile zone. It also shouldn't take so damn long to get a response from the network.

In fact, the best way to find a good restaurant, hotel, or dance club still appears to be by word of mouth. It's a good thing we can all still depend on the kindness of strangers, because the technology is still practically very far from helpful in a real crunch. And no, we never found a place to dance and ended up in a bizzarre piano dive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

LinkedIn Catchup

While the high-tech world has a tendency to favor first-movers, moving second can have its benefits. LinkedIn is arguably way ehind Facebook in terms of forming groups, and just recently LinkedIn has made it simple to use applications. I've been waiting for this capability since I saw LinkedIn and Google showing off the calendar application on the release of OpenSocial.

Although Facebook is increasingly being used for serious networking and setting up get-togethers, including business networking meetings, Facebook isn't intrinsically designed to be serious. Facebook is fun and colorful, while LinkedIn is black-and-white, I've heard it said, but I don't wear my party shirts to business meetings.

For business networking, LinkedIn is far and away the most popular social network, and by adding groups and applications, they are poised to really take a leap. A minority of users are actively using the professional lists, the bias is clear. If you go to LinkedIn to set up a group, you are doing so for professional networking purposes, and dramatically enhancing your reach to other professionals in the area.

I've been warmly welcomed to every group I attempted to join, and offered connectivity to other group members. This is networking at its best.
You may have some doubts as to the quality of the links acquired through this type of networking, and I agree. However, fundamentally, it's no different than having a coffee at a professional conference with someone. You still don't know the person; you might not necessarily recommend them or refer them to a colleague; but you would be inclined to at least read the e-mail they send to you. The major significant difference in the LinkedIn connection is: you can actually remember you have it and search for it when you need it. Whether you store your paper business cards in a binder of a box, no matter what sorting system you use, there's no denying that it's going to be easier to find a LinkedIn connection than a business card.

The only major feature lacking is "notes", such as you would scribble on the back of a business card. I would like to see that feature on a social network: the ability to write your own personal comments on how you met the person and the ability to apply your own tags for later search of the person's profile.

Apps are just in the nascent stage, and don't yet include the kinds of tools that will connect online to real life encounters. To do that, applications need to correspond real-world activities with online and professional profiles. For example, if you are attending an event, and you want to meet a certain type of professional, you should be able to make the proper search. If you are on business in a foreign city or a particular hotel, you could use some kind of application to put together a minyan, or find someone to go jogging with who is also a professional in your field.

Most business travelers find themselves alone much of the time they travel, so this could be incredibly effective. Imagine being able to find the right person to sit next to on a flight instead of ending up next to the crying baby. Not that I have anything against crying babies; I've had a couple of my own. Still, when on business, the benefit of sitting in a plane next to someone visiting the same conference or belonging to the same industry is clear.

At this stage, the applications tend to restrict your life to the virtual. I'm looking forward to LinkedIn's providing apps that cross the gaps and create meaningful relationships. Recent developments lead me to believe that time is drawing near.