Sumit Sharma

How relevant are our Social Networks?

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Is it possible to start afresh on Facebook? We all have phases in our life for which Facebook was used. A few years ago I used it to stay in touch with high school friends, most of whom have little or no professional relevance. The last time I posted something professionally interesting, a friend of mine replied: “Hey Sumit stop posting complex stuff, no one gets it” – he was being sarcastic of course but there is an element of truth in it.

My network of Facebook friends aren’t relevant to my needs at this particular time and nor am I to theirs. How can I get connected to like minded people without intrusively getting in their faces? How can people be exposed to the hidden genius in all of us that has knowledge or some ideas that are waiting to create an epiphany in someone else’s mind? Perhaps, the 10-15 FB friends, who have potential of sharing my passion are too shy to comment on my wall post because they are conscious of who might be reading it? What can Facebook do to make it a safe environment to share information relevant to my preferences at this time?

This is a question that must be answered since currently its too much of a social platform for me – which is fine but my primary concern isn’t social network, but rather knowledge networking. I do hesitate in adding friends now because I want to foster a network that is relevant to my needs at this particular time – but why do I need to make this compromise? On the other hand, why can’t I respond to my 8 yr old nephews request to friend me without thinking of the repercussions of diluting the opportunities for me to post topics about the cloud, and in avoiding doing so diluting my relevant network?

Facebook needs to figure out a way to keep our micro networks separate. It is very true that my LinkedIn profile has more professionally meaningful connections then my Facebook account, whereas my twitter account has more star connections at the moment. I am following cool people, entrepreneurs and thinkers – why can’t I interact or friend them without intruding into their lives? In fact, I don’t want to intrude into their lives, I just want to have a forum where they can hear my point of view without worrying too much about its relevance. For example, there could be some base filters such as: education level, degree earned, conferences attended, magazines followed and professional network. Take my individual case: I have an undergrad degree from IIT, an MBA from Haas, I have attended several conferences over the last year and I frequently watch speeches, breakout sessions, keynotes and discussions on YouTube about technology trends. Based on these filters why shouldn’t I touch the edges of some of the networks of important people?
 The Return on Attention question, or at least the solution, needs to be constantly re-addressed.

Some people are currently relying on their own personal subjective filters – I vividly recall a conversation I was having with John Seely Brown where he mentioned that he only reads articles/posts forwarded to him from trusted associates, this is perfectly understandable and while in all probability it is conceivable that his associates will be sending him valuable information, he is missing out on that tail of serendipitous encounters that even he would perhaps value.
There needs to be an analytics engine that does this automatic filtering so that this high profile person does not miss out on this tail element in his network. Think of it as the notion that your company does not have the smartest people, no matter where you work: Google, Mckinsey, Genentech, Boeing, GE or P&G – there are always smart people outside which is why companies actively recruit outside of each other. Why can’t this be extended to professional networks, or even social networks?

The other day when I was riding the Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area, I heard 16yr old high school boys talking, one of them was a slightly geeky, plump boy – and he was with his cooler more trendy friends who all had attractive girlfriends. In response to the plump boy saying he wasn’t going to the prom because he didn’t have a date, one of the cool boys literally stood up and gave an impromptu pep talk to the plump kid about the value of confidence and pro-activeness in how we need to create opportunities for ourselves. I was truly amazed at the level of sophistication, maturity and camaraderie in that moment which I truly never would have expected from kids at that age. Perhaps they are outliers, or perhaps they are indicative of the level of maturity in kids today and how much quicker they are maturing. Based on this, could there be a an acceleration in the learning potential of the younger generation, and so it would be in my best interests as a young professional, or in seasoned professional’s interests to have such extraordinary boys’ perspectives – he surely provided me with a boost in confidence and such moments are indicative of the importance of the unexpected tail players in the edges of our networks. Creativity really lies at the edges of enterprises according to John Hagel so based on this it is important to continue on expanding our networks into unsuspecting tails such as that set of 16yr high school kids – 16yr olds aren’t what they used to be.

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Written by Sumit

January 10, 2010 at 8:30 am

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