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Summary:

This weekend may be remembered for questioning of the value of social networks, as Leo Laporte explained why he’s leaving Google Buzz behind. Are you not getting value out of social networks or are you trying to use them as tools for something they’re not?

This weekend saw a number of prominent technology observers questioning the value of social networks, including This Week in Tech host Leo Laporte, who penned a thoughtful post on why he’s leaving Google Buzz behind. Laporte said he feels that his last four years of social networking use have been an “an immense waste of time,” but I think he and others are missing the larger point. Too many people seem to be trying to use social networks for media and marketing activities instead of the core reason such networks exist: namely, to connect people.

Leo makes several good points in his post, in which he describes himself as “shouting into a vast echo chamber where no one could hear me because they were too busy shouting themselves.” If social networks were just echo chambers, I’d agree with Leo, but I see tangible benefits mixed in among the masses of retweets and shared links. Why do I see value where Leo doesn’t? Because I’ve defined and accepted what I plan to get from such services. While I use Twitter and Facebook to share bits of interesting data on the web — for instance, all of my GigaOM posts are tweeted out to followers — the biggest benefit is when I connect with others.

Take last weekend, for example, which saw me hanging with Paul McCartney’s touring band on a Saturday night, solely because of social networking. After taking in The Beatles LOVE show at The Mirage back in January, I tweeted how much I enjoyed it. Was I just shouting about myself in the echo chamber? A little, sure, but I was also opening myself up to connect with others that like the Beatles or the LOVE show. Sure enough, someone named Brian Ray replied to my tweet just a few minutes later. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that Brian is the guitarist and bassist for McCartney while on tour. Would I have ever had a chance to connect with Brian if I hadn’t sent that seemingly useless tweet? Not a chance.

The Twitter conversation with Brian turned into various communications on Facebook over the past several months, both privately and on his Facebook fan page, a destination that Brian has defined as a place for his fans to gather and chat. And sure enough, when McCartney’s tour rolled into Philadelphia last weekend, Brian invited my son and I to meet up in the VIP Band Guest Lounge prior to the show, and to hang out with him and the other band members: all because of a social network connection. Without such tools to connect people, there’s no way I would have had the opportunity Brian provided.

At this point, I’m wondering if Leo meant to use Buzz more for marketing and media rather than to connect with his reader on a very personal and individual level. It’s certainly his choice on how to use social networking, and I’d never say that his choice is wrong; we each use the web in different ways. But a mantra I’ve long held when covering mobile technology applies quite well here: Always use the right tool for the task. If you’re going to use a hammer to saw wood, for example, you’re not going to be very successful. Likewise, if you want to build relationships in a real-time fashion, then social networking is the tool to use. If you get additional value from such networks over and above connecting with people around the world, I say that’s a bonus.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

  1. I wrote about memories… for me that is slightly more important than just the interaction.

    Photo or it didn’t happen.

    Did you have a conversation with Brian in January, lets check Google
    http://www.google.com/search?q=site:twitter.com/KevinCTofel+brianrayguitar&hl=en&safe=off&pws=0&gl=US&filter=0

    It didn’t happen…

    Maybe it did, I could try other searches, but you won’t be able to find that conversation easily.

    That is why I left Twitter 6 month ago – I stated then that Twitter has Alzheimers.

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    1. Great point, Andy, and the memories / search history for the conversations need improvement for sure.

      The memories of the conversation are less important to me personally, because I place greater value on the result of those convos as well as the ongoing communication. Not arguing with your need for the memories at all, just saying that I have different needs and requirements of social networking tools than you… and probably everyone else, for that matter! :)

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  2. Thanks for writing this Kevin. I’ve had similar experiences through my use of social networks and I’ve also derived a great deal of value from them in my job as a journalist and in my job seeking. I think I can relate to the feeling Leo described because I have felt it myself, but I think that’s just because people’s attention (as does my own) ebbs and flows. Sometimes it seems like no one is listening, but others times it feels like the eyes of the world are on you.

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  3. I think we are about to see more social networks launch but they will have a new level of obvious utility many lack.

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  4. Kevin you need to trot this topic out and cite current real world examples at least a few times a year to give everyone who reads a reality check on what I like to think is the simplest common denominator for social networks. Connecting people has to be at your networks core.

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  5. Kevin, you are absolutely right; LOVE is an AMAZING!! show. I just saw it 2 weeks ago and it was really the coolest performance of any kind that I have ever seen.

    I immediately told my parents to put it on their Bucket List. I couldn’t imagine how much cooler it would be to someone of their generation.

    Oh, and I find Twitter to be like an improved RSS feed reader — where all the good stuff has been pre-sorted for me!

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  6. Although miracles do happen, it is probably Brian responded to your twit because it was YOU, its easy to Google you and see that you are not just a nobody…

    On the other hand social networks do provide real results improving people connectivity, like Linkedin and its relevancy for business and Facebook for friends and family.

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    1. Alicia, while you could be right, I don’t think Brian Googled me — we had practically a real-time conversation on Twitter. Besides, I’m a nobody in the world of rock-and-roll / The Beatles, and even in the tech world, I’m just another writer. I believe our common enjoyment of The Beatles was the deciding factor, to be honest, and that, along with social networking tools, is what connected us.

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  7. [...] happens to all of the status updates, pictures, and other content which you publish to them? …News Flash: Social Networks Are About Connecting PeopleGigaOm (blog)Social media is just fine. You're the one screwing up.The Next Weball 13 news [...]

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  8. The first wave of social networking has been all about broadcasting to your friends (and increasingly, anyone who might listen). The social connection comes from learning a bit about a friend based on what they’ve shared with you, and vice versa. All of this happens in the virtual world, and people are starting to question its real value in their real life.

    We believe the next wave of social will be about helping people make decisions and take action based on their social connections. At Poig, our approach is to make it incredibly easy to create spontaneous get-togethers: doing real things with real friends/people in the real world.

    There is a huge opportunity to bring all of the information that’s already available in the social graph and apply it to real life in a way that provides major value to users and keeps folks like Leo happy ;)

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  9. Great article. Social Networks are certainly all about connecting, and perhaps more so, making relationships. I have found great success for my company through Facebook by interacting and and personalizing my communication with customers on our network. Social Media has forever changed the way businesses and customers interact.

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