I’ve been hearing Robert Scoble yak for months, nay, years, about the “walled garden” metaphor in social networking. This is where a vendor, say, Facebook, locks in users by restricting their ability to move their social graph to other, possibly competing services.
It appears that the trend is slowly moving in the direction of portability, which is a win for average Janes and Joes, not to mention the Scobles and Calacanises of the world who have about 1.0*10^12 friends apiece and who are singularly responsible for recent Twitter downtime, among other horrible crimes.
There’s a larger issue, which is almost the reverse of the walled garden issue, and that is, how valuable are silo networks in the first place? The item that got me thinking was a post by Ken Ross on the Seattle Tech Startups list about his new venture called ExpertCEO:
We’re writing to invite CEO’s, COO’s and Presidents to join ExpertCEO, a private on-line community where senior executives can confidentially exchange ideas with peers, locate trusted resources, ask questions of experts across a range of disciplines, and quickly solve real-world business problems. The site combines social networking technology with concepts proven by CEO membership organizations like Vistage and YPO
I was immediately brought back to 1992, when I was the store manager for a Mailboxes, Etc. franchise, and a guy who had a mailbox there invited me to join a similar organization. His gig was to go around to different cities, set up an irresistable buzz among the wanna-be CEOs, collect his membership dues, then hand over the managerial reins to some clueless schlub and go on to the next town.
The thing was, I was 20 years old at the time and had no executive experience of any sort. I was a struggling student who happened, by dint of responsible behavior, to land this slightly less crappy job than most of the other students. But when he invited me to join his super-CEO group, I was thinking something along the lines of “I wouldn’t want to join any organization that would want to have me as a member.” I went to one introductory meeting and it was a roomful of mostly clueless, mostly preening young guys who had big ambition but not much in the way of real mentoring, or anyone they could ask to see “is this thing really worth my time?”
I’ve been fortunate since to have a couple older mentors who have taught me a lot – often through osmosis – and so now, when I see the ExpertCEO pitch, I immediately reject it. But let’s assume for the moment that this guy, Ken Ross, is a decent guy who really thinks that this idea has legs. He might be thinking along the lines of the job-hunting site for “people making over 100K a year”, TheLadders.com
Does it have legs? Do “communities of interest” have a place?
I get a lot of value out of my self-selected network(s): Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. I also get a lot of value out of special-interest groups I belong to (formally or informally), such as the Seattle Tech Startups group itself. What’s worth paying for, and what’s not? Is Twitter worth paying for? Is Biznik? Is ExpertCEO?
Recently on STS there was a long series of discussions about whether it was useful for startup founders to subscribe (pay for) membership in the various Angel and VC funding organizations, like NWEN, Alliance of Angels, Keiretsu, etc. There were strong sentiments on both sides of that argument.
What do you think?