My Letter to the Editor on the Working The Net article from mentioned in this post on this blog.

I don’t agree with Paul Allen’s rule “If you’re not a member of the LinkedIn network with a minimum of 10 connections and two endorsements on the site, don’t even bother calling him.”

Endorsements at least, are not a means to measure a person’s worth. Colleagues, clients and people we know who will not say anything negative about us write all our endorsements. Even if they did, we have an option to not publish those endorsements. So the endorsements don’t serve any other purpose except making the person receiving them feel good about himself / herself. I have only one endorsement from a long-term clients and that has neither prevented me from landing a job on LinkedIn nor from signing deals with clients from all over the world.

I also do not understand why anyone would “only” want to connect with someone who has a large number of connections. If a person is well networked it means that he / she is a good conversationalist, has the time to personally keep in touch with all his connections and makes an effort to do so and maybe he / she is “good with people”. The number of professionals on our personal networks only adds “snobbery” value when someone we do not know views the same.

I can understand why Paul Allen, who is a busy man, needs to critically view each person who approaches him for connecting on the LinkedIn network or for VC funding. Fact is, all of us are busy professionals and need to set some boundaries about our networking practices. Each person has different rules, different best practices and different approaches to how they handle business networking and using one example as a general sentiment is biased.

Why is the article only mentioning LinkedIn and Spoke? LinkedIn maybe a online business networking portal with the maximum members but it is not the best. It has competition – from a lesser-known European entity called openBC, which recently crossed its 500,000 mark. Features and functionality on openBC are without a match and like a lot of networkers I need as much flexibility as possible in deciding who needs to contact me and who can see my contact information. And last I “heard” in the networking community, people were leaving Spoke in droves.

Online business networks are wonderful tools that make the metaphorical “flat world” of Friedman a reality.
I am based in India and 90% of my business comes from openBC network contacts, which are overseas. I do not need to meet them, in some cases I do not even need to speak to them in real-time and still I get assignments and deliver AND get paid. These networks allow me to compete with people from all over the world in gaining clients from all over the world. Every person I meet is a potential client – since my work is digital – it is showcased on the web and these potential clients do not need to meet me to ensure the credibility of my work; they can write e-mail to my past clients to find out more. Why should I limit myself only to Indian clients when I know that the whole world is accessible?

As for premium or free memberships, these networking portals offer a fantastic service that I am willing to pay for. LinkedIn might be “free” currently but they are certainly moving toward a paid membership model and finding out what features disappear for free members is a function if time. OpenBC too offers a month of free premium membership and the free membership isn’t too debilitating either – but looking at the features offered to a premium member, I don’t see any reason why I should not pay for them. If I had to work with international clients without these networking portals, I would have to invest huge sums in advertising, marketing, phone bills etc.

“Muse observes, however, that the growing pool could hurt entrepreneurs. “I think, over time, it’s going to get less useful because there will be too many people connecting to too many people, so eventually, we’re all connected,” he says. Discriminating users, he adds, could help maintain the value.” But isn’t that the whole point – to have access to everyone? I believe that’s one aspect of the flat world that Friedman talks about. I believe that everyone being connected to everyone will not be as easy as Muse states. There are people in online business networking, who take it up with much enthusiasm, make connections, but because of an underlying belief that it couldn’t possible work for them, they give up – but they don’t leave the system. They are those people who will not do any more online networking and even hinder the process for other networkers.
Besides, how do we determine what factors to use in discriminating users? Isn’t everyone we meet a potential client or a connection to a potential client? If someone walks up to you in a traditional face-to-face networking meeting and you realize that your businesses are not a perfect fit for business opportunities, will you ask that person to leave only on that basis?

Of course online business networking can be and is being used in conjunction with traditional face-to-face networking events. But why should I waste my time fretting over the “meeting” part when I know that its easy to get on with a successful deal without meeting the client. What’s there to know? The client has seen my work, has double-checked with past clients, has chatted with me using free VoIP and has also been given some convincing ideas from my end – why should he / she spend more time trying to “meet” me? Isn’t that also one of the reasons why we use online business networking? To “e-meet” people whom we cannot immediately meet face-to-face and forge relationships?

And who are we kidding, we are here to do business and make money and anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool or a liar. Of course at some point we all want to “give back to the network”. But if we do not receive anything from the network in the first place, who has the time or the inclination to “give”?

“But if you never go to networking events and just sit in your house and play on LinkedIn, you’re not going to get anywhere. You have to know people for it to have value.” I disagree – I just sit at my house and play with openBC and LinkedIn and I haven’t been to any networking events yet and I’m doing just fine – in fact, I’m doing great! Of course I’m planning to attend the next event but that’s because I already know so many people and have interacted with them so many times that “meeting” them is the next logical step. I believe and have experienced that the potential of online business networking portals – at least openBC and LinkedIn – is far bigger than any of us can even imagine – not only for the networks themselves, but for their members too. We just have to use our imagination.