Web 2.0 – The potential of social networks
I had a discussion with a fellow colleague of mine the other day that got me thinking about the non-technical aspect of Web 2.0. While it may be surprising for some of you to hear – I find the social aspect of the Web 2.0 movement much more interesting than the technical aspects of it (AJAX and remote scripting have become mainstream since years and won’t pop anybody’s eyes these days). So, here’s what happened…
I sent one of my co-workers a connection request from our internal community network and he rejected it! As we are working in the same team I was puzzled at first (to say the least) and asked him for the reasons – lack of sympathy? (No, I did not ask him that directly!) He answered something along the lines of:
I’m not interested in social networks. … You won’t find me on LinkedIn either… and I did not build up my network by just pressing buttons …
Obviously that was just screaming for a more detailled reply from my end… I spare you the details, but at the end we agreed to disagree and are now working together without being official connections. 🙂
Now, I truly believe that one needs to differentiate between a public site such as LinkedIn or Facebook (F8) and a company-internal community space in the first place (more on that later-on). Second, I totally agree with my colleague that networks are NOT build by just clicking buttons. That may be the start of networking with someone or just a way to get in touch again… but it does not provide any indication on the quality/value of this connection. While the term for this relationship differs from one social platform to the next ranging from followers (Twitter), connections (LinkedIn) to even friends (Facebook) they all share one common idea: encourage networking.
If you would ask me what is the most important (non-technical) thing I learned during my professional career I’d say: networking is important!
@SAP it is the only way to get you going… the more people you know, the more sources of information you have access to. The more information you have, the better the foundation to make educated decisions and take reasonable actions. The more people know you (and your individual skill set and interests) the higher the chances you’ll be informed about upcoming opportunities. In short: you are whom you know!
While I lack experience, I make a (safe?) bet that this is how it works in other companies or organizations as well (not to mention politics). So, networking is a vital aspect of my job in order to work efficiently and remain on top of this fast-paced business, its ever-changing buzzwords and hypes and political movements etc…
Based on the above, I think everybody should give social networks a try in order to efficiently manage (or even extend) his/her network. Now, I don’t want to deny that there are some considerations to be applied before going all out and creating a profile on every relevant social network. Especially us, who work in or around IT, seem to have a natural (and healthy) reluctance against seeing our privacy endangered by sensitive or private data being exposed in public. We are aware that we need to be a little bit careful on which information we want to expose to whom and where. Big brother is watching…and big G. already knows more than enough about us.
For me, it just feels natural to apply the same considerations as with someone I meet in Person: would I dash out my vCard to a complete stranger or even share with him more sensitive or private data? No chance. After a chat or talk I may be interested in sharing enough info to stay or get in touch… the more we would interact, the stronger our connection would become and the more info I’d share. For a colleague with whom I successfully worked with for years I’d pull a leg or return a favor w/o hesitation…
So, NO… the quality of such a network connection is shaped in real life, through real interaction etc. and NOT “… by just clicking a button!” Yet, the effect is the same, we interact, we collaborate – we network!
Who knows when/where a connection can turn into “Vitamin C” and provide an opportunity one would not never have otherwise. The more we network over time the higher the likeliness that some of my connections will come in handy.
There’s nothing wrong in that from my point of view… even though I admit it sounds quite negative talking about it if we just network to get something! Ultimately we should all help our connections for the great feeling of helping someone… just “investing” in order to be able to get something back a later time is something I personally do frown upon. (For the same reason I dislike the concept of fraternities etc.)
So, let’s talk about how social media can help us to foster our personal network:
To be honest… I’m not spending much time on Facebook for mainly two reasons: privacy and lack of time (not sure about the order). First, I really want to retain some sort of privacy for the comfort of having the chance to be off-guard and just take a break without having to be afraid that it’s on the net (and googlable by everyone incl. people I would not want to find such information for various reason.) I also don’t think that my private life is really soo interesting to the rest of the world that they would hunger for every little detail (as it’s mostly revolving around my little girls!)
Second, I’m spending most of the time during the day being trapped in front of a computer screen or on the phone and hence that’s the last thing I would want to do in my free time (~ whatever is left of it anyway!)
Yet, being fortunate enough to have a dad who’s a pilot for a big German Airline I had the privilege to tour the world at a very early stage and to make real friends all over. Now, while the younger readers among you (the digital natives) may not be able to relate to it, there was a time without internet and email and we stayed in touch in the old fashioned ways (Hard to believe I know! 😉 To make it short: one grows older, one starts a career, one starts a family… and then one starts missing time for his/her personal interests. As a consequence, one gets sluggish in staying in touch. People move… connections break…
And that’s where Facebook jumps in for me. I maintain just as much information so that people can find me and get in touch again. The rest – I keep offline (from Facebook’s point of view.)
I admit I also do not really use LinkedIn during my daily business, yet I have maintained my data and I see the number of connections steadily growing. For what reason?
Right now, I may not need it, but you never really know when the time comes and then it would be too late! If I would be looking for a new job, it may would help me to get in touch with some of my connections asking if they can endorse me or if they know of any good job opportunities or …
… tomorrow a connection of one of my connections has a brilliant idea and needs someone with my skill set… we start in a garage and in ten years… $$$
…. Where were I?
Save the best for last!
Now, Twitter is just brilliant for social networking. Let me tell you why.
First, it’s not about being friends… it’s about sharing interest in common topics! If I find the tweets of someone interesting I can just follow him/her to see what (s)he’s talking about. If it’s interesting for me I have extra info that helps me, if not I can just stop following again. However, if we are really interested in the same topics we have a win – win situation and we both benefit from tailor-fitted information exchange. (Just like RSS, only with hand-picked syndication!) That could be the start of a working relationship or the like…
Second, tweets are short by nature with a max of 140 characters. That’s not a restriction, but strength… one only has that much to draw attention or to express oneself. Due to the length limitation tweets need to be spot on and very precise… and that saves time for all. In fact, it’s all about time… which we all have to little off, right?
A lot of people I follow on Twitter get to see/know a lot of very interesting topics all day long and they do not have the time (or interest) to express all of these in a full-fledged blog/email/article etc. … as it comes with a much higher effort. But they do have the time to post a tweet about it.
I truly believe that some of the most interesting news are “leaking” via twitter… it’s also great for teasers… and for playful chit-chat twitter 😉
See you there,
PS: Oh… and with the raise of smart (sometimes even “sexy”) phones it will even be easier to network… anywhere, anytime… when you feel like it and have the time! For me this mobile networking is a whole new experience … which got me hooked 🙂
a) I’m not actively pursuing the thought of leaving SAP right now, and
b) even if I would – do you think I would state it here after reading all this?!? ;))