There are so many social/networking/professional tools out there, but they all have a common purpose (or should), and that is to create a community.
- Professional tools target professional communities - many of them based on the knowledge of a technology, software, product suite, etc. That might be an [ERP community|http://erp.ittoolbox.com/], professional group affiliation, or one based on a programming language like C#.
- Networking tools create a wider set of communities - perhaps based on common interests like group affiliations ([Camping/Hiking Clubs|http://www.thecampingclub.com/index.html], Religious Clubs, Fan Clubs, etc.). They focus less on a professional grouping and more on overall populations, but still with the intent of connecting people.
- Social tools tend to focus on interactions that, in my opinion, are a bit more coffee shop, telephone, local park. In other words, they are less about connecting people and more about chatting on day to day stuff. They don't necessarily focus on people who might want to coordinate a camping trip or ask technical questions, but they offer an online watercooler for socialization and gossip and play.
Each tool has a user base, with some overlap, but they tend to tailor their offerings based on the type of user they really want to visit. Take a look at MySpace, for example - you can completely customize your profile with music, videos, flash animations, colours, whatever. You can't do that on something like LinkedIN because that's not primarily what it's about.
When I'm at work, I focus on the Professional or Networking tools - places I can go to ask questions about a technology problem I'm having, or to find someone who not only likes the Sci-Fi Network* show Eureka but wants to chat about geek gadgets for the digital home.
When I'm at home, I think less about work and so I shift my focus to Networking and Social tools. I'm more inclined to look for people who want to chat about the latest episode of American Idol, or perhaps go read the latest deliciously sarcastic blog from TV icon Bobby Rivers.
I'm part of any number of communities that are dynamically created based on my hobbies, interests, and likes. It's exponential the number of communities I'm a part of on any given day, but I thought it might be interesting to figure out just how many.
So here's what I consider to be 10% of the communities that I am a part of:
First, I will boil it down to the lowest common denominator and eliminate things like: human being, on planet Earth, inhabitant of the Milky Way Galaxy, and anything that would be consistent with every other person on the planet.
So what does that leave... US Citizen, NC Native but CA resident who lives in the Sacramento area, employee of a high tech company, team manager, user of an overloaded laptop. Alumni of a college that gave me a BSBA in Information Systems, formerly a member of a professional organization at said college, alumni of my high school and the marching band, child actor (used to be in a lot of plays when younger
). Camper, book reader (sci-fi, horror, comedy, adventure
), bike rider, gardener, writer of books, lover of reference materials/trivia, bicentennial quarter collector, RPG game player, movie watcher (sci-fi, action, comedy, thriller
), music listener (ambient, jazz, soft pop, 80's
), caretaker for three cats. Sushi eater, coffee drinker, non-American sports car driver, and lover of diet Pepsi* vanilla.
Now that I write all that out, I don't even think that's 10% of the communities I'm a part of. I can think of a hundred other aspects of my personality/life that would lend themselves to larger communities...so how is this at all useful?
The example that I'm prone to use when asked about the value of Social Networking/Communities is this... I want to find people of any gender and any race, working at the same place I do, who like to eat sushi for lunch, who are fans of Stephen King novels, have some experience in wiki's and online document repositories, and have a background in organization development. And then I want to schedule a lunch with those folks so we can discuss putting together an internal website on org development BKMs, and after we're done talk about the latest novel from our favourite horror writer, all the while enjoying unagi and maguro.
That, to me, is the power and usefulness of the community. Where do you find value?
* Company and/or product names are copyrights and trademarks of their respective companies.