Networking the West with Liz Ryan

By Liz Ryan, 5-23-07

LinkedIn, the eleven-million-member gorilla in the business-oriented social networking space, is the place to link and be linked for U.S. businesspeople. But for Europeans and others, Xing (formerly Open BC) is the spot. Users compare the two sites’ functionality and find Xing “friendlier,” LinkedIn more robust. Speculation abounds on user group email lists (like MyLinkedinPowerForum) about whether one of the sites is to be sold, or whether one will buy the other. Right now, it’s a standoff: as much as Americans like to say “Why join another social networking site when everyone’s who’s anyone is on LinkedIn?”, plenty of businesspeople outside the US have yet to budge from Xing or a third, also less U.S.-centric networking site, ecademy.

And this raises a question. How global, yet, is the business online-networking scene? It seems that, much more often than not, Americans still link to Americans, Brits to Brits and so on. Can social networking cross borders so easily? I know that, try as I might, and with all the cultural sensitivity I can muster, I can’t keep the dozens of Aruns and Deepaks in my LinkedIn network distinct from one another. Without photos and other personal cues, I can’t always remember who my connections are and how I met them. And I have ‘only’ 1500 first-degree contacts, not thousands like some of the Open Connectors (also called LIONS) who live to connect on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has upped the functionality ante by recently launching LinkedIn Answers, which functions like Yahoo! Answers with a twist: when you like the quality of another LinkedIn user’s thinking (as demonstrated by his or her pithy Answers) you can instantly launch a message to that person, suggesting that you and s/he make contact (that’s a Contact Request) or even connect (that’s a Connection Invitation). Thus, you can add to your network based on intellectual power, philosophical alignment, or sense of humor, among other things.

LinkedIn is also re-evaluating its Groups program, whereby organized clubs and associations can create online databases and help members find one another for fruitful LinkedIn connecting. On top of that, LinkedIn is taking a hard look at the permissions it’s casually granted over the years for informal user groups (MyLinkedInPowerForum, LinkedInPowerWomen, and LinkedInBoomers among others—I co-moderate some of these LinkedIn groups myself) to use its name and to incorporate its logo into theirs. So change may be in the wind at LinkedIn, although no other U.S. business networking site has anywhere near its user base or name recognition.

A recent post on the MyLinkedInPowerForum group decried the flood of Xing invitations that have poured into the PowerForum conversation. Other members called that view hypocritical, since just as many LinkedIn invitations come into the PowerForum as well; but as the moderator, Vincent Wright, pointed out, the group has LinkedIn in its name, for Pete’s sake. This Xing/LinkedIn struggle reminds me of the Protestant church in Newark, NJ, that recently caught flack for advertising in the section of the Newark Star Ledger generally used for church-services announcements, “Catholics! Unhappy with the direction the Church is taking? Come see us instead!” (I paraphrased.) Critics said the Protestants should recruit from the general public, not poach the Catholic throng (which is dwindling perfectly well without help from outsiders). I say the same is true for Xing: go pick on the five billion, nine hundred and ninety million people who aren’t already using social networking sites of any kind, and leave the poor LinkedIn users alone. :-)

source: New West