Like most people in the tech business, I have been afflicted with a particularly annoying email virus... the dreaded "so-and-so wants to be your connection on LinkedIn" email. At first I would click on the add-me-as-your-connection link, at least for the first couple dozen. At some point I started to get a little annoyed at the volume of these invititations, almost exclusively from professional colleagues, others from people I gave my business card to years ago and quite honestly, don't remember who they are. Now I just ignore the emails and am seriously considering adding LinkedIn to my blacklist.
The thing about these services is that they are largely a gimmick at this point, funded by the venture capitalists apparently hoping to relive some dot-com exhuberance. I'm not critical of my fellow VC's for funding them, it's their mission to fund companies they believe can earn them a return and, for the most part, the venture groups behind these companies are experienced, competent, and managed by professionals I hold in high esteem. I do reserve the right to question the value of the social networking concept.
I'm kind of an introvert in many ways, I pull myself away from the technology world for my family and my quirky hobbies, so I don't spend a lot of time "after hours" socializing with people I work with. During business hours I focus my energy on working with people I know, to hopefully build some value in our joint projects, so I'm not into meeting people for the sake of meeting. At conferences and other events I try to listen more than speak, so I don't ever seem to 'work the room'. I enjoy what I do and I greatly enjoy meeting energized smart people as I find it contagious, and I'm also an optimist when it comes to technology, I believe that our industry holds a great capacity for making life better, if not more complex at times! My casual social circle in the venture and entrepreneurial circles is pretty broad, largely a function of having done this for quite some time. However, despite knowing a lot of people, I actually rarely become friends with people I work with, and when I do I invest time in those relationships that enables them to transcend professional topics. In short, I know a lot of people but I don't KNOW a lot of people. I'm protective of those relationships, respectful of the trust and confidence that others invest in me.
This is the nexus of my criticism of the average social networking concept. If my business/social network falls into the "high volume/low quality - low volume/high quality" model, why would I jeopardize the quaity of the relationships that really mean something by opening it up to the world? Furthermore, why would the casual relationship that I have with a lot of people be of any value to someone I do know? It strikes me that the social networking theory holds that the more volume you have, the bigger your network will become by introducing degrees of separation roughly along the lines of Metcalfe's Law. I disagree, human networks do not grow in value by multiplying, but rather by reduction. For me, it's the quality of relationships that enhances my professional and personal life, not the sheer numbers.
When I look at the social networking startups I can't help but think about how similar these are to the early Internet deals, which valued size over sustainability. I have to wonder what value people are finding in these services and if it's enough to justify spending money on them. Despite the hundreds of emails, by now, that I have received inviting me to join LinkedIn, I have yet to hear about how people are actually using the service.