Harvester Ants and Networking
Rafe Needleman at Business 2.0 is raves about LinkedIn. He sees it as something of value to him (analysis of social networking inevitably subjective anthropology), the beginnings of a good model and business networking as something he will pay for.
Mike at Techdirt offers some more subjective analysis from his experience in a networking ventures. His take is that people hesitate to contribute their network to an open one and what they really want to do is initiate introductions within their own network.
The LinkedIn wiki has a few calls for an Intro feature. But a larger question is if businesspeople will allow their network to converge with others through social networking models. My sense is yes, because of both the efficiencies created by the models and networking is dynamic. Rafe points out that, "even former presidents go to real-world parties and conferences to talk with people and further their own agendas, so there may just be an online analog to throwing these parties. "
No matter how connected you are, you seek new connections. Models like LinkedIn allow new connections to come to you, filtered by real people. And if you bring someone new into the larger network, you play the role of the gatekeeper for the trust you have built in your own network. Earlier models failed because of filtration, but this also creates costs that impede the growth of the network.
Valdis Krebs' work on online network growth highlights the need for balance between the need for strong ties at the core and continuing expansion at the periphery through weaker ties. Without new ties bringing diverse value the network dies. Without a strong core to distribute value the network dies.
A sustainable structure is almost like the bucket brigades of harvester ants. Stronger ants at the core do the heavy lifting and weaker ants at the periphery forage for new food.
Mike also thinks people will circumvent paying for referral routing. Key point here is transaction costs have to be low compared to contacting intermediate(s) through other modes and referrals have to have positive externalities (e.g. history tracking).
Of course, my take is quite subjective.