Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Online (Social) Networking - What does it really mean?

I've realized that many of us are experiencing a terminology challenge as we explore the online social networking world. There are some who use the term social networking to identify the action of building one's network, whether in the real or virtual world. Others limit their use of the term to those actions where they are adding and cultivating their relationships with friends and acquaintences they have officially connected to in an online social networking site. And others distinguish between the connections made for business and pleasure.

Whatis.com (a service of Tech Target) defines social networking as "the practice of expanding the number of one's business and/or social contacts by making connections through individuals." They note that the "unparalleled potential of the Internet" serves as a major catalyst, and that the social networking sites serve to "help people make contacts that would be good for them to know, but that they would be unlikely to have met otherwise." See WhatIs.com.

PC Mag has no such definition for the action, but they do define the result. A social network is an "association of people drawn together by family, work or hobby." They note that the term was first coined by professor J. A. Barnes in the 1950s, who defined the size of a social network as a group of about 100 to 150 people. PC Mag also notes that social networking sites compete for attention much like the first Web portals when the Internet exploded onto the scene in the mid-1990s.

That's why I think the network-without-walls concept is needed. Perhaps it's too trusting in the advances of technology, but if a network is constrained by competition, doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose (and fly in the face of the underlying purpose of free enterprise)? My thought is that a network (before the "unparalleled potential of the Internet") was not limited to one household, city, profession, website, or even language, and it should not be so limited now. A network should be comprised of a variety of people of multiple ages, races, experiences, skills, callings, locations, and passions. Otherwise, the plain-vanilla flavor of the old-school corporate "build it how you want it, not how they'll use it" mentality that still plagues the likes of IBM, General Motors, and the government officials in a variety of locations, will take over the social networks and we'll all be back to square one.

So what do we do with these definitional challenges? As I've stated before, I am convinced of the power of online (social) networking, but we have to be able to use a term that all can relate to.

Thus, I propose we refer to the action of building one's network of friends and acquaintenances, whether for personal or professional reasons, as networking. I also suggest that when we refer to the action of building one's network of friends and acquaintenances, whether for personal or professional reasons, in the online environment, we call it online networking. And, I propose that we refer to the action of building one's network of friends and acquaintenances, whether for personal or professional reasons, in a voice-only exchange (whether on a traditional phone call or any number of digital connections like VOIP) as audio networking. And, if we are engaging in communication with other individuals where we can see their expressions and actions (like in a video conference or face-to-face encounter), I propose that we refer to that action of building one's network of friends and acquaintenances, whether for personal or professional reasons, as direct networking.

What do you think?

3 comments:

Aaron said...

But as I understand it, the issue whereof you seek to address, is not of the medium of contact, but rather of the distinction between cultivating existing relationships and prospecting for new leads.

carterfsmith said...

Is it really so simple as a distinction? Ultimately, I think networking is networking, and as you appear to be suggesting the medium isn't a big deal. Many in business don't feel they are engaging in "social" networking, so I propose that either we call it all networking or we agree on terms.

I we are limited to networking for 1) cultivating existing relationships or 2) prospecting for new leads, wouldn't we always want to choose the former?

How about networking with existing contacts to develop our relationships with them so that we can both learn how to "promote" each other to other people we each need to know?

Aaron said...

Who said anything about choosing one over the other, either consolidating or expanding ones network of contacts? -Although, the advantages of either might depend upon whatever purpose or goal set forth. The question as I understand it was purely of definition. And for that matter, obviously it's all social networking, because we are not talking about connecting workstations on a LAN.