How many degrees of Kevin Bacon can be sliced?

I received an invite to join a group of friends in Orkut, “an online community that connects people through a network of trusted friends.” My first reaction was oh, brother, yet another linking portal.

I already have entries on
Friendster, the “online community that connects people through networks of friends” and
LinkedIn, where you can “Find the people you need through the people you trust.” I frequently receive requests from people using Plaxo (“Update your address book!”) to update my contact information.

Here are my impressions so far…

  • Friendster has the largest community, and is the slowest of the bunch. It’s also the slowest. And it’s slow, too. They’re geared towards mating and dating, so if you’re not looking, then it’s mostly for entertainment value. It was interesting/educational browsing various coworkers’ bios. (If you’re curious, here’s mine)

    Did I already mention it’s slow? Logging in took about 20 minutes. (I just let it sit in the background) Once logged in, it takes literally minutes to navigate between screens. On the other hand, there are some funny pseudo users like France. It’s somewhat cool to link things by keywords. So, assuming I was looking for someone who liked watching the Weather Channel, and I wasn’t in a hurry, I could just click on the link.

    And wait.

    I’m not sure how they’ll make money in the long term. They currently run sponsored links, served by someone else (because they’re slow), and obviously not targeted, with titles like this appearing under the pictures of whomever you’re viewing:

    My Dad Thinks Im Gay — A free song from Request-A-Song.com!
    Send your special Friendster a Valentine’s Gift — Free shipping on all orders thru 2/14/04
    RECLAIM VIRGINITY — geT IT BACK NOW
    FREE Voicemail! — Get voicemails from friends by email

    The ad text blends in with the picture, which makes it doubly annoying as there’s an implicit visual association of the two.
    (Damn, this site is slow.)

  • LinkedIn targets people interested in making business connections. They’ve thought through the security model more. For example, by default it restricts letting people browse your network. I’ve received twelve contacts. Of these, five were people seeking a job, three were pass-throughs in my network, three were folks seeking business/sales opportunities with my employer, and one was offering me a position. (It was a great role, but it would require relocation to a place where no one in my family wants to live.)

    There are no ad banners or obvious sources of revenue. Overall, it’s been slightly useful in doing research on contacts within companies, and it’s much faster than Friendster, but the network can be limited and is a little, well, boring. This would have been great back in 1996-1998, during the dot.com surge.

  • While Friendster and LinkedIn are based on who you know, Classmates Online is based on where you’ve been.

    Classmates’ sweet spot is linking people based on where they went to high school, hence their tagline “rediscover your past”. They’ve since added military and college, both of which make sense, but in the last year or so, added workplace. Personally, I think this makes the user experience awkward because there’s no dissociation between the groups. Add to that the general spookiness of being able to search for someone on the work dimension, and it’s too much information for me to make available. (On the other hand, there are hundreds of Jim Carsons, so cyber-stalkers would have to look through a few hundred entries.)

    I had an account, but recently deleted it for four reasons. First, I was really pissed off with the constant barrage of ad banners and popups with the paid membership. I would be willing to bet that the amount of money they’re making from ads served to paid members isn’t that high and probably not worth the PO-factor. Unless they’re targeting them — which I doubt as I always get the Yahoo Personals pop when my blocker is turned off.

    Second, I was concerned with the privacy issues above. Adding the workplace just pushed me over the paranoia edge.

    Thirdly, and probably more realistic, I have less in common now with the people attending my high school than I did 20 years ago. (St. Heave, feel free to chime in here.) There are two people that I really wanted to get in touch with, and I Have, but I am ambivalent about the other 600+.

    Finally, the business model feels backwards — you can only write a biography by paying. As a result, not that many people do that. I think it should be the other way around, writing bios is free, seeing them requires paid membership.

  • Plaxo offers the concept of distributed updates of rolodexes (rolodexi?). The idea is everyone updates his/her own information, and subscribers will always have the latest and greatest. I’ve received a handful of inquiries to update my contact information. Each time I go to the site, it wants me to download their applet and “join.” I don’t have a lot of contacts, and being at a domain with my own name makes this pretty easy to find me. And hey, I’m the #1 Jim Carson on Google! (at least for now).
  • BookCrossing is interesting on a variety of levels, but I haven’t had much time to spend on it since initially joining last year. (Profile is here) Its concept is you read a book then release it into the wild with a tracking number. Someone finds the book, goes to Bookcrossing.com, and annotates the whereabouts of the book. If everybody plays along, you have the book version of Where’s George. One of my books is somewhere overseas right now. I need to thin out my book collection again, but the tagging and releasing process is sligthly tedious. I love the concept, though.
  • So now there’s Orkut. The folks who sent me invites are cool, so I joined. I’ve not had much time to delve into it, but it’s blazingly fast, and browsing profiles is fairly easy. I see the “in association with Google” listed, and am not sure if this is a Google venture or funded or what. (LinkedIn is also Google-funded.) This will give Friendster a run for it’s .. well, there’s no money involved right now, so maybe “vision” is the word I’m looking for?

    I filled in some silly profile information on the personal section that doesn’t seem to be viewable. This could be a case of me blogging past midnight, but I (currently) think it’s funny enough to share:

    Describe your ideal match — My ideal match ignites upon first contact with the abrasive strip; it should burn for ten seconds before reaching perilously close to my thumb; ideally, my match would be wind resistant, too.

    September 2006: I’ve given up on orkut. Too many outages, too much spam.

Classmates is the only one with an established business model, and claims to be profitable since October 2001. I’m not sure what the others’ long-term strategy is, or what happens to privacy policies if these companies collapse under their own weight. This also got me to thinking about the job portals like monster.com, careerbuilder.com and hotjobs.com — these, too, have a lot of personal information in them that is valuable if properly mined.

It’s definitely time to go to sleep…

13 thoughts on “How many degrees of Kevin Bacon can be sliced?

  1. The same way Coca Cola can be Coke Classic with a new formula based on corn syrup instead of sugar: effective marketing.

    Or mirrors.

  2. Don’t want to hear from anyone at the old McC?

    Actually I have nightmares where that is a main theme, here I am over 2,000 miles away from that little corner of hades (I kid, who can hate a place with so many GOLF COURSES!) and I run into someone from the old High School that wants to sell me life insurance, or better yet defend me in a maritime law suit.

  3. But speaking of degrees of separation..

    Star Trek on Two Vectors

    Me > a friend in LA > friend’s girlfriend > girlfriend is landlady of Michael Dorn.

    Me > former co-worker > former co-worker dated Wil Wheaton

    So why won’t Patrick Stewart return my calls?

  4. > Don’t want to hear from anyone at the old McC?

    Maybe it has something to do with the flashbacks I get whenever I hear Groundskeeper Willie on the Simpsons:

    Get your haggis, right here! Chopped heart and lungs boiled in a wee sheep’s stomach! Tastes as good as it sounds. Good for what ails ya!”

    High school has an infinitesimal (#9002) influence on my life today. While I was initially curious what people were up to, the exchanges I’ve had via contacts on classmates only reinforced my perception that I have even less in common with them now. (Case in point: Bob “The Bulk” Brisson.) The big 2-oh is coming up, and I’m not particularly inclined to travel the seven levels and 2,100 miles to that corner of golf paradise.

  5. >Star Trek on two vectors

    Cool. Is this Karen in LA?

    Now that the show’s long over, I’m much more impressed with the coolness of Wil Wheaton. I think George Takei also has a blog…

    Speaking of Star Trek, last week’s Enterprise was weird. Tucker and T’Pol do the deed, Reed and the MACO beat the snot out of each other, and the gratuitous alien happens to be evil. [The “let’s pick up the evil aliens” theme is getting old… kind of like BJ and the Bear (1980s TV show) where the truck driver (BJ) would pick up the hitchhiker who was t-r-o-u-b-l-e….]

  6. I’d like to recommend a networking site that I have found to be much more interesting than Friendster. My purpose on the site is purely entertainment. I work in a fish bowl and I have too much time on my hands. This site has done wonders for me in the ‘keep Jenni busy so she doesn’t take her boredom out on customers’ category. I’m only 22 so I’m not sure how the contacts are in any other age group. I’ve found many interesting people in the 21-28 age bracket. I’ll have to give some of yours sites a try…I have the time.

  7. Friendster’s age range seems to be the mid 20s. LinkedIn late 30s (e.g,. people who have been working a while). Orkut late 20s. A lot of people don’t post ages, which is fine with me.

    Orkut has some interesting niche communities (e.g., Mythbusters, sushi), but they’re relatively low traffic, which is good/bad.

  8. Two other articles forwarded along:
    Friendster sucks

    Autistic Social Software

    Though I don’t wish this on anyone, I see Classmates has laid off 30 people. Since they’re a private company, they aren’t required to disclose revenues, but one can infer this is an issue.

    I’ve since deleted my classmates and friendster profiles, pared back what I have on linked in, and have an alter-ego on orkut for when I like to play around. (The alter ego is obviously me, but it affords some artistic liberties.)

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