April 25th, 2006

geek, dev, weekly

Working Your Net

"It's not what you know, it's who you know." We've all heard that maxim before. It is becoming more and more important. Everyone has a social network:

of one kind or another. As the issues in life, business, and technology become more complex, it becomes obvious that the more information and minds we have working on the problem at hand, the quicker and better the solution will be. Collaborative solutions are all the rage in industries from medicine to software and education to customer service. Collaborative, group forming networks:

is the goal: optimized distributed networks. How does it happen?

The use of the Internet in business has been a topic of discussion for over 10 years. Ever since the dot.com bust, business has continued to reevaluate what the value of the Internet is. What is beyond advertising revenue? It becomes clear that using the Internet as a networking and collaborative tool is our future. Collaborative networks start with building and enabling networks to form communities of practice where the work can be done.

Networks are an integral part of our lives and the benefits can be as simple as finding a babysitter. Start with your social network. Ask yourself, "What is the value of my network?" We're not talking about your WiFi or ethernet connection here. We are talking about the network of PEOPLE in your life. In other words, take the Internet and IT out of the picture and you're still left with the people around you, the people whom you trust to help you and connect you to the other people you need to fulfill your vision in life.

With all the talk of the role of the IT (the Internet, broadband, Web 2.0), there is one fundamental key to successful collaboration that can't be ignored - your networks. Many Thais have connected to others via Hotmail and MSN Messenger. Now we see a shift as people jump on the social networking bandwagon with 330,000 Thais already signed up at hi5.com, a site that has reached 20 million members worldwide in just 2 years.

There is clearly a trend and it's spreading to Thailand OUTSIDE of the Internet. In mid-March, Joshua Philips, launched donttellanyone.net in Bangkok. The basic principle was simple: connect club-goers in Bangkok online, have them chat and find common connections, and then have them meet in person at a launch party at Astra. It works!

The concept of connecting people online and having them meet face-to-face is not new. Back in 2001, Ryze.com took business networking to a whole new level by creating an online business network and organizing events across the United States for networkers to meet face-to-face. LinkedIn.com has become a quick revolution in social networking geared for business use. LinkedIn.com was able to go into the black in just 3 years - rare for a startup.

This hybrid-model of mixing online networks with face-to-face meetings continues to gain steam. Omidyar Networks (the investment arm of Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay) just invested $2M in the startup, Meetup.com, to emphasize the importance of meeting face-to-face. Visible Path (visiblepath.com) asserts that your network is a direct result of communication paths and assets. Menlo ventures, the investors that funded Hotmail Corporation before it was acquired by Microsoft in 1998, just invested $10M in Visible Path to push this idea into the future.

In Thailand, we clearly aren't strangers when it comes to meeting face-to-face - many of us see this value immediately - some of us insist on meeting - you know who you are!

What shift in culture must take place in terms of how you see your networks and their potential? How do you use your network? Is your network helping you solve problems and build new opportunities on an on-going basis? Do you spend a significant amount of time online? Have you thought about how to look at the Internet as a business tool - one to facilitate your networking?

Take a look at your life: what networks have you created? Are your networks social, business, or a bit of both? How broad are your networks? What part of your networks are international? Do you interact primarily face-to-face or predominately online? Are there networks you can't wait to introduce your friends and colleagues and insist (perhaps even demand) that they participate too? What percent of your network reaches out to you as opposed to you reaching out to them?

Give these questions some thought. Next week, we'll focus in more detail on the cultural shifts that have to happen to mature your networks in Thailand. Now go out there and invite 4 people into your life! Happy networking! :)

(contributors: Linda Nowakowski and Chinarut Ruangchotvit, special thanks to Jay Lamey and Writely.com for helping us live our vision for collaboration!)