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Network World - I recently decided, somewhat randomly, to experiment a bit more with social networking. I was on LinkedIn and at some point the service asked me if it could access my Gmail contact list.
"Why not?" I thought and let LinkedIn have at it ...
Now, I don't know if you're aware of this, but Gmail keeps track of everyone you have ever had any contact with. For example, let's say Bob sends you a message and he copies a thousand people. Gmail notes each one. It doesn't do this in "My Contacts," but sensibly in "Other Contacts." And when you give LinkedIn access to your Gmail contact it can see everything, including "Other Contacts."
So after chewing on my contacts for a few minutes, LinkedIn said to me what amounted to, "Hey, I just found 4,500 people in your Gmail contacts list ... can I ask them to connect?"
This kind of messages either makes you think, "Gad, no! Just shoot me now," or, if you're wiling to just throw caution to the wind, something like, "Why not, let's do it, but let me edit that first." I thought the latter and started editing the list.
After an hour of weeding out the people I really wanted nothing to do with I finally got down to around 4,000 people and had had enough. I muttered, "Oh, what the hell ... let's do it and see what happens!" and pressed the "Do it" button. Yes, I am indeed a wild and devil-may-care kinda guy, and so with that click off went a tsunami of contact requests.
Over the next few days literally hundreds of people, with nary a qualm, connected with me. My list of LinkedIn contacts grew rapidly and a few of those new connections sent me messages and conversations started.
It was great! Some of these folks were people I hadn't had any contact with for ages, while others were folks who I had never exchanged thoughts with before. It was all really cool.
And then I got a reply from a guy who I will call Bob who I am on a private email list with. While Bob and I don't actually know each other except through this list, and as far as I can remember we've never actually had a direct discussion on the list, we are "list acquaintances"... that is, not exactly strangers.
In response to my default LinkedIn connection request of "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn," Bob wrote, "Sorry, Mark -- thanks for the invitation, but I generally only connect with people I've actually met in person."
I wasn't offended, but his response made me think about social media and our criteria for engaging with other people. Specifically, why do we connect to people on social networks? What makes a social network connection worthwhile? Do our social network connections validate us as we would like to think they do?
In the spirit of inquiry I posted a message to the list we both belong to, as well as another list, to see what the cognoscenti had to say about who to connect with and why and I got some interesting feedback.