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The Good, the Bad, and the Sociable
Posted On February 1, 2004
The past few weeks have been almost a blur for me. So much information! The good news is that I've had briefings about some really exciting products and technology developments. For example, Fast Search and Transfer's launch of its new Enterprise Search Platform had some observers uncharacteristically enthusiastic, calling the unified access to enterprise content and data a "leap into the future." Covering a development like that makes for an interesting week. (See the Feb. 2 NewsBreak.) I also had a sneak peek at a new product that's being developed in close collaboration with its intended users. This is a very encouraging development. You'll be hearing more about it later this month when I'm allowed to discuss the news.

The bad news is that the ugly MyDoom worm disrupted e-mail for most of us and wreaked havoc on networks, communications, and work flow. I spent way too much of my time deleting junk messages and "recipient virus alerts" and running virus-checking software. The insidious e-mail generating worm is said to be the largest virus outbreak ever. At least I wasn't also contending with snow, ice, and cold temperatures, like many parts of the U.S. were.

The recent "sociable" news has to do with search engines and Internet social networking, not plans to party with friends during the Super Bowl. I must admit, I had kind of tuned out the news about social network services like Friendster. They're consumer-oriented, I thought (and just high-tech dating services?). But last week, I got word about the new Eurekster service, which offers personalized search results based on other users in your personal social network. Then, a day later, Orkut, a beta service "affiliated with Google" launched as an invitation-only site. And I received an e-mail invitation to join a colleague in a business networking service called LinkedIn. (I said things have been busy. I didn't get an Orkut invite, however.) Hmmm, it looks like I need to pay attention to the online social networking phenomenon.

Basically, these social networking services let people connect with others, on either a personal or professional level. A December 2003 article in Investor's Business Daily estimated that there were (then) about 20 such services, and venture capital firms had invested about $30 million in a handful of the companies in the last few months. And if some of the company-supplied numbers that I've seen are accurate, these sites are getting a lot of users.

Eurekster learns from the behavior of users and their social networks of friends and contacts. It then delivers personalized search results and instant sharing of popular Web destinations and searches among extended communities. Eurekster says it protects users' identities, with each search shared anonymously within social networks. The service also lets users initiate private searches.

In a recent issue of SearchDay, Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch pointed out some drawbacks of the Eurekster service, including privacy issues and the potentially diverse interests within someone's social network ( But I liked his ideas for useful applications. He mentioned a medical research firm whose employees might do similar medically related queries. He also said: "Libraries are another institution that might latch on to the Eurekster concept. Librarians are constantly asked by patrons for assistance. Eurekster would allow librarians to collaborate invisibly with each other and share what they've found to be the best for various queries."

The quiet debut of Orkut was hailed by many media outlets as evidence of Google's interest in social networking services. As Sullivan explained, the service is named after Orkut Buyukkokten, a Google software engineer who developed the project during his personal time. Google reportedly is going to watch and see how people react to it.

I also found out about other services that have some interesting possibilities. For example, you can search by ZIP code and use it to reach neighbors with a local announcement: lost dog, block party, etc. (Of course, you could also use the phone or your neighborhood newsletter.) I've since noticed others, like, Myspace, and Tickle, which just started charging fees to access some profiles. Is this a new trend?

Moving beyond virtual connections, Meetup is a free service that organizes "local gatherings about anything, anywhere." Lately, it has garnered media attention because of its effective use in the 2004 presidential campaign. Meetup, Inc. recently announced that it has enabled Meetups for supporters of "every declared senatorial, congressional, and gubernatorial candidate running for office in 2004." In a New York Times article, author Saul Hansell said, "Like eBay, Meetup is turning out to be a bigger idea than it may have appeared at first."

Another site, called, provides business networking opportunities. And ZeroDegrees, Inc. offers both private networks and enterprise Web services solutions that can link to software applications such as customer-relationship-management systems.

I did accept my colleague's invitation to join LinkedIn. Although I was skeptical at first, LinkedIn offers a serious professional business tool. It lets members reach hiring managers, recommended service providers, business partners, clients, and industry experts through referrals from people they already know and trust.

But just as I was finishing this article, a piece in Wired News reported that not everyone is thrilled with this way of connecting with friends. Author Leander Kahney wrote: "A backlash is underway against social networking services like Friendster, as more and more companies crowd to join the latest hot Internet trend. Sick of invitations to join networking services and the constant nagging to validate friends or acquaintances, some people are turning against the ever-growing social networking services."

Now I need to monitor the trend and the backlash. It looks like my news horizons are expanding, just like my social network.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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