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Online friends to the end - to what end?

Networking sites masquerade as professional tools. But really it's just a popularity contest.

By Amy Hollyfield, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2007


I'm dissing your invites.

I'm neglecting the battery of e-mails reminding me that so many people in the world want to BE MY CONTACT!

I'm LinkedIn, but not happy about it.

This virtual networking phenomenon is supposed to strengthen and extend my existing network of trusted contacts, according to the site.

I so don't need that.

You might need it. You might dutifully check the e-mails and search for colleagues near and far, hoping to extend your network and watch that number of contacts rise higher than your SAT score.

But why?

LinkedIn's site says it can help you "find and be found by former colleagues," "search for great jobs," "discover inside connections that can help you land jobs and close deals."

Seriously?

I suppose it might be nice to hear from someone who worked with me at Camp Michi-Lu-Ca.

Or hey, does anyone remember my three-hour stint at a public access cable TV station near Detroit? The job I quit by writing a note to the boss during my lunch break because I got a call for a job in Maine?

If you do, do I want to hear from you?

It's a not-so-new fad, this social networking. Web sites lure people with common interests, offering information and relationships to enhance our lives. I know plenty of people who are happy to be bustling in this new world. They check their Facebook pages, they get alerts from Web sites that monitor issues important to them, they send electronic invitations to gatherings that don't require invitations, and so on.

Maybe it's my introvert nature, but I'm just not interested in this method of socializing. I've never been one for excessive exposure or attention, and that's exactly what this feels like.

Put yourself out there! Make friends! You can rule your world and look fun and interesting to anyone who sees your profile!

Um, no thanks.

The invitations are polite, although not terribly inviting: "Paul, a colleague at St. Petersburg Times, requested to add you as a connection on LinkedIn."

Seems harmless to click the "accept" button, but must I justify my social existence by having this Web site calculate my popularity?

Have we as a society become more reliant on clicks of the mouse than human contact? Wait, I know the answer to that. And it's not great. If the allure of virtual relationships is so intense and attractive, why have real relationships at all? I can easily have 100-plus connections, and through three degrees of separation I can have thousands more.

I look popular to colleagues andfriends, but where's the personal gain, the stronger relationship, something more meaningful?

It's just publicity for my team!

Deep down, there is a certain excitement to hearing someone wants to be your connection. It's a virtual party, and am I such a loser that I can't click a button? It's useless, but not exactly a huge expenditure of energy.

If after a few days you don't respond to the invitation to connect, the site contacts you about missed opportunities.

Beaten down by hearing about the people who are eager to build a network with me, I reluctantly give in. I accept their invitations.

But it feels wrong and worthless.

What more am I than a warm number in their bright blue button of popularity?

Amy Hollyfield can be reached at ahollyfield@sptimes.com.

 

 

 

MORE INFO

LinkedIn.com

What is it? A Web site for working professionals interested in expanding their professional network through online connections.

Started: In 2003, by founding CEO Reid Hoffman, now chairman and president.

Based: Mountain View, Calif.

Number of members: 16-million

Cost: Free, though premium services are offered through paid accounts.

They say: "Adding 5 connections makes you 3.7x more likely to receive a job offer."

MySpace.com

What is it? An online social community.

Create a community on MySpace and you can share photos, music, journals and interests with your network.

Started: In 2003, by Tom Anderson, now president, and Chris DeWolfe, now CEO.

Based: Beverly Hills, Calif.

Number of members: about 70-million in the U.S., 200-million globally

Cost: Free

They say: "My Space is an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends."

Sources: Times research, LinkedIn.com, MySpace.com