.COM – LIVE
Hosted by Leslie Walker
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, March 25, 1999
Welcome to ".com – Live." I'm your host Leslie Walker. Every other Thursday, I'm online from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern to give you an opportunity to talk directly with entrepreneurs, visionaries and online business people on the way the Internet is changing the world of commerce.
Read my latest .com column and then join me for a live discussion with Andrew Bein, general manager of SixDegrees.com. He answered questions on building virtual communities on the Web though networking.
SixDegrees.com is a Web site that builds a virtual community through the concept of "six degrees of separation." That theory holds that every person on earth is connected to everyone else through a path of six people or less. SixDegrees.com asks members to form their personal communities by listing six friends or relatives, each of whom then can add their friends and build connected communities.
Read the transcript of this discussion.
Leslie Walker: Can you explain the basics of how your SixDegree web site works?
Andrew Bein: Sure.
Seattle: All these ideas about building virtual communities on the Web sound great in theory, but as practical matter, very few wind up creating any real human bonds. What makes SixDegrees any different?
Andrew Bein: We're different because the human bonds are there from the start.
San Francisco: Is the six-degrees-of-separation theory mathematically credible or it is some abstract philosophical thing?
Andrew Bein: That's what we've set out to find out.
Leslie Walker: The big fear people having in signing up for free services of any kind on the Web--especially a networking service like yours--is spam. What kind of filters or controls does SixDegrees offer so people can curb the volume of unsolicited e-mail?
Andrew Bein: We are committed to a purely voluntary system.
Leslie Walker: OK, We're here today to talk about a Web site that aspires to the super-Rolodex of the Internet. Welcome to Andrew Bein. He runs the SixDegrees.com Web site, which lets people network electronically. Andrew, let's start with this "Six Degrees" concept. Is the world really that small--and are you and I really only six friends apart?
Andrew Bein: Maybe fewer!
Leslie Walker: Andrew, let's back up and talk about the SixDegrees concept itself. I know the site aims to be a kind of electronic Rolodex, but tell us more about the SixDegrees idea. Didn't it come from a telegraph pioneer in the 19th century?
Andrew Bein: Actually the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi
So this Marconi said technology would someday enable contact
Andrew Bein: Yes -- and led to the inception of sixdegrees.com
Washington DC: I and a lot of my friends do use sixdegrees - I enjoy the ability to get updates via email. are there any efforts underway to make people more inclined to go to the site more often?
Andrew Bein: It's a major focus for us -- more is being added every day to encourage you to visit often.
Newport RI: Why would anyone want to sign their friends or relatives up for an online network? Won't this just increase the number of SPAM messages they get?
Andrew Bein: No -- when you sponsor new members, your contacts must confirm their relationship to you and their interest in sixdegrees.
Bethesda, MD: Philosophically speaking, do you have any hopes that, by showing the world just how connected each of us is to one another, that- as John Donne put it- "no man is an island, entire of itself"- that in some way Six Degrees can help facilitate global unity, world peace, and less fighting on daytime talk shows? (3 year member)
Andrew Bein: Absolutely -- we'd love to think that connecting people gets us one step closer to a better planet.
dave, VA: What benefits do I receive by becoming a member of your service? What can I expect?
Andrew Bein: You can
Springfield, VA: Do you keep track of all the "threads" or discussions that take place?
Andrew Bein: Yes -- the threads for bulletin board postings (to your inner circle and to the interest groups you join) are available for you to view at any time.
We're about halfway through today's chat. We are still open for questions. So keep them rolling in!
And for those of you who sent in questions about today's Amway column, stay tuned. I'll answer them at the end of the SixDegrees chat.
Andrew, I got my introduction to SixDegrees last month when I was looking for people who use a certain software program to see how they liked it. Someone posted my question on SixDegrees-- and I was amazed that more than 30 e-mails rolled into my mailbox almost at once from all over the world.
Washington, DC: My friends and I have a "virtual community" with one of the big portal companies where we share news and other fun stuff. But after a while as our site grows, it has become intolerably slow. how do you anticipate fixing problems such as this?
Andrew Bein: We are devoting enormous resources (time and money) to scale our site to be fast, responsive and available at all times.
Hyattsville, MD: So what are some of the most remarkable or interesting stories of people who are connected by six degrees or less?
Andrew Bein: We have members who have used sixdegrees to fall in love, find a spouse, find a job, find an old friend, find help -- we have documented many of these stories in the Testimonials page of our site (www.sixdegrees.com).
Do you really believe that I am separated by six degrees from a yak herder in Mongolia, or is the Six Degrees theory just a nice idea?
Andrew Bein: Here's a way to think about it --
I'm curious about the company behind SixDegrees. How many people does it employ, and how does SixDegrees pay the bills? For example, does most of your revenue come from marketing companies who want to send e-mail to the members--or is there more money from banner advertising?
Andrew Bein: Great question.
Falls Church, VA: Isn't your site simply a way to expand e-mail lists for marketing firms?
Andrew Bein: No.
I get email from "friends" to join this thing all the time. I think it is a bit scary to be creating this type of human relations database. What would you do if the police came to you to find someone? They'd have access to everyone who knew that person.
Andrew Bein: It's totally optional to join -- if you're not comfortable with it, there's no obligation to participate.
Miami FLA: How much do you charge corporations who want to send commercial email to your members?
Andrew Bein: We do not allow this.
springfield, va: What if you don't have any friends and you are a total loser (lot's of those online I'm told). Isn't the initial success of the internet due to its ability to connect total strangers with one another?
Andrew Bein: As a sixdegrees member, you can connect to others who have similar interests, hobbies, professions; who live near each other; or who have friends in common -- the idea is that no one is a "total" stranger once they are connected to the rest of the sixdegrees membership.
Andrew, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today about this ever-shrinking world of ours. I guess my cousin in Australia will be having lunch soon with your first-grade teacher, after she gets an e-mail from my sister's best friend in college! Thanks again to all your readers for send us your questions and thoughts about networking on the Web.
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