Flying Southwest in June?

If you’re flying on Southwest Airlines in June, check out Chris Tucker’s article, “Joined at the Chip”, an overview of online networking:

Networking, 1994: Strictly by accident, you meet a guy at a party. After washing down a few hors d’ouevres, you confess a desire to get out of car repo and into a nice, safe line of work that doesn’t involve late nights crouching in shrubbery. He mentions a friend whose wife’s company might be hiring. You scribble the contact’s name and number on a cocktail napkin.

Networking, 2004: You join an online social networking service. After setting up a basic profile, you’re part of a self-selecting community of interest. You quickly take advantage of discussion groups on a variety of interests and professions. You can scan contact lists, finding people in a particular occupation or region, and then request more info about opportunities. No cocktail napkins required.

OK, the 1994 example may be a bit extreme, but this is a really good overview article for those new to the topic. And, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Tucker for the article. Since it’s not available online, here’s that excerpt:

To get an overview of the social networking scene, I checked in with Houston-based Scott Allen, whose website ( tracks new developments in the networking world. According to Allen, the boundaries between different kinds of sites are inherently fuzzy, but he suggests this rough grouping:

  • Personal/Romance: Friendster, Match, Tickle
  • Business: Ryze, Ecademy
  • Tribe, Orkut

However, Allen cautions against hard-and-fast distinctions. “Social networking and business networking never takeplace in isolation,” he says. “There’s going to be an occasional [business] deal done between two people who meet on Friendster, and there will be the occasional romance between people who meet on Ryze.”

Allen, who is co-writing a book called The Virtual Handshake: Leveraging Online Social Networks to Grow Your Business, points to several factors that account for the boom in networking sites. In today’s downsizing labor market, people often find themselves working longer hours to make up for departed colleagues. That means less time for traditional face-to-face networking events like conventions, lunches and happy hours.

“You mightspend five hours, counting drive time, going to an industry event and come back with two or three good contacts, if you’re lucky,” says Allen. “Spend that same five hours online, and you can post meaningful messages on a dozen sites, each of which has hundreds or thousands of the kind of people you need. I guarantee you’ll make more quality contacts [in that same time].”

Another important spur to business networking, Allen says, is the success of online dating services, which demonstrates that people can build significant levels of trust through the Web. “If people can propose marriage online, they can certainly get to the point of doing a five- or six-figure deal online,” he says.