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Robert MacMillan's Random Access

Want to Join My Click?

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2005; 9:41 AM

Sometime last year, my friend Shannon invited me to join her extensive Friendster network.

Friendster, of course, is one of the more popular social networking sites. And for those of you who didn't read all the hype last year, these sites are where people get invited to join by a friend or business contact. They then invite their own contacts until, presto, you have a spider's Web of impressive proportions. Friendster says it's the "fun and safe way to organize your social life."

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At the time, I felt gratified that someone thought enough of me to join this exclusive online club. I test-drove the system to discover who was networking with Shannon, who was networking with her friends, and who was networking with her friends' friends (I also looked up her friends' friends' friends and friends' friends' friends' friends, but then I had exceeded my time for personal Internet use on the job). While I discovered some forgotten names and faces and learned some new ones, I soon had had enough.

As recently as last week I thought about going back on Friendster, as well as a business social networking site I had joined. Unfortunately, I forgot my Friendster user ID and password and the e-mail address I set it up with is defunct. I also forgot which business networking site I joined. Somewhere, the online me is living the good life with plenty of friends.

My walk down memory lane was good timing, because only just this morning I ran across a story on Wired headlined, "Are Socialites Still Networking?"

The answer seems to be "they're getting there." Here's the lead of the story: "More than a year after 'social networking' became the leading buzzword in internet startup circles, companies in the sector haven't gained the traction early enthusiasts predicted. Still, many of the bigger networking services say the number of users is growing steadily, and if they're not profitable already, they soon will be."

The article counts "The Apprentice 2" winner Kelly Perdew, RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and REM singer/songwriter Michael Stipe as people you've heard of who sport online social networking credentials. Wired concludes that this could mean that a) last year's hype around social networking sites wasn't hype after all, or b) the sites are marketing themselves by flaunting their A-list members.

"It's just like a dance club. You get a couple of rock stars to hang out in the VIP lounge, and everyone else wants to come," Konstantin Guericke, vice president of marketing for LinkedIn, told Wired.

The site executives told Wired reporter Joanna Glasner about their efforts to build business. LinkedIn is launching a "premium" section that allows employers to post open positions, something that Guericke thinks will help the company break even this year. Over at Ryze, founder Adrian Scott says he charges subscription fees and charges extra for people to contact others on the network who are more than two degrees distant.

LinkedIn has raised $15 million in venture capital, and Friendster has secured $13 million, Wired reported. Someone out there, not just the people who run these sites, obviously thinks they are worth the effort.

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