I recently received an email message from Scott Ingram about his new professional networking Web site Network In Austin, focused on the Austin, Texas community. Since I’m a part of the LinkedIn community, focused on global networking connections, I thought it was quite interesting to contrast the two.
There are a number of questions that come up, however, as I think about local versus global networking and watch more networking sites come online every week. I also get invited to participate in lots of them, from the slick clone O’Reilly Connection to the rather amateurish Soflow, so I have a chance to really see how different people think about professional networking.
The first, and most obvious question is why are there so darn many sites? That is, if each site were visibly different from the others then I could understand why a group of developers would put the time in to build a new online networking site, but they’re all basically the same. So what could possibly motivate people to build new ones when there are already existing networking sites with millions of users? And what would motivate users to join a new site when they’re already devoted the time to build a profile on one of the busier, older sites?
Another question, one that brings us back to the faux celebrity death match of LinkedIn versus NetworkInAustin, is should we network professionally at the global level, national level, or locally?
The answer, of course, is “all of the above”. On a local level, I find it critically important to have access to a consolidated event calendar that lets me know what’s going on, who is going to be in town, what parties I should be attending, and so on. It also makes it much easier to take the step from email to face-to-face interaction: networking online with someone in, say, Australia is considerably harder, even with email and Skype, because we’re still social creatures, and there’s still something invaluable about building relationships through physical interaction.
To get another perspective on the matter, I asked Scott Ingram of NetworkInAustin why he believes that local networking should be added to the online networking efforts of global professionals. Here’s his response:
We’re all part of a global village, right? I mean, I work on projects with people from around the world and am part of groups with members scattered to the proverbial four winds. Sometimes I have no idea where colleagues are located and am surprised when I realize there are four, five, or even ten time zones separating us.
In that sense, what’s the point of constraining networking to just a geographically local community? Since professional networking is happening online with increasing frequency, it’s completely logical to connect with peers in Dubai, Tokyo, Auckland and São Paulo, isn’t it?
Since “mashups” are all the rage with Web developers nowadays, I sense that there’s an interesting intersection of local professional networking, event calendars, aggregated blogs, RSS feeds of regional news, maps and sites like LinkedIn waiting to be put into the pot, stirred, simmered for a while, and put together by some enterprising folk. It’s an untapped opportunity and wouldn’t be that incredibly hard to put together, would it? And another startup idea: why hasn’t someone written a universal networking site profile translator so I could focus on making one really comprehensive than just clone it on all the other sites I’d like to join? Back to topic, though!
I believe that there is a need for regional networking sites like Network In Austin, but I surmise that their days are numbered or that they’ll all gradually succumb to competing on the national and, ultimately, international level because there’s no reason not to do so. If I can have an event calendar for my home town, why not add events for other cities within a day’s drive, or day’s flight, then let visitors automatically constrain their subset of the calendar to only areas they’re interested in. And make that an RSS feed they can subscribe to, while we’re at it?
What’s left is the interpersonal networking, and for more and more professionals, networking in the online world really opens up the chance to look for peers and opportunities based on your exact skills and interests rather than the “adequate fit” approach of looking for a job in your neighborhood or even <gasp> reading the Classified Ads in the paper.
And then we really will achieve a global professional village after all.