John Robb wrote recently about its value and limitations (think of these as opportunities):
It contains solid (but private) contact information on all members.
Profiles are available on each member (on LinkedIn you can put in a resume).
There is a safe, formal method of requesting contact with other members you don’t know. This is like UserLand’s spam free e-mail.
The connection info (you know D through B and C) is more of a gimmick than something that provides real value. There is a small amount of comfort involved in knowing how you are connected to other people (you can also get info on how many people they are connected to, which is like a PageRank for social networks). This is the part of these networks that confuses everyone.
There is a search function for finding other members based on information in the profile (interests, company, job title, etc).
Now that we have demystified social networking software, let’s think about how to apply the features in an open system that works in conjunction with weblogs. The current systems are too closed and limited to be of much long term value. Here’s my thinking:
Solid information on weblog authors. It would be great to have standardized weblog profile and contact information. Currently, contact and profile information on weblogs, if it is there at all, is all over the map. It really sucks. Sure, you can read what someone is writing on their weblog, but you often need ESP to determine who they are, what they do, etc. A safe way to share contact information. Way too many people publish their e-mail address in the clear on the their weblogs. There should be a way to restrict that (via a spam free e-mail feature) that would allow the weblog’s author to release solid contact information (e-mail, phone, address) to readers that they authorize. Search!! This is a simple and powerful feature. Want to find Microsoft or Google webloggers? Why wait for someone to build a list that may or may not be out of date? A search function on social networking profile information derived from weblogs would solve this quickly and with much more accuracy than a random Google search. Categorization. Have a look at Jon Udell’s lists of CXO webloggers on the right hand side of his weblog. How easy would this be to create if you had solid contact information contained in a social networking system. In fact, you could build directories on the fly customized to your needs based on good profile information. Community and portability. The advent of open profile information would allow people to create custom communities. There is a lot of power in creating ad hoc communities of members using this type of information. It could also be used to allow members of that community to build contact lists in other applications (e-mail and IM) that are constantly and automatically updated (a new role for Newsgator — creating auto updated contact lists for e-mail apps).
OK, this would be very, very easy to do in the weblog world if we start right now. All that is needed is a simple standard for an XML profile that can be published by weblog authors in a form on their weblog tool of choice.