How networks work: FaceBook vs. LinkedIn

Facebook_ii I’ve been trying out Facebook.  (Some of you have yet to accept my invitation…or make one of your own.  This is so hurtful.  Never mind.  Let’s just move on.  You will or you won’t.  I can’t force you.)

Facework works well.  Better, I think, than LinkedIn.

Take the case of Kevin Slavin.  I heard Kevin speak in New York City in early March this year at PFSK.  I was wowed by his presentation.  I thought to myself this is one way to glimpse the future, listen to a real smart guy who has found a way to turn Manhattan into a large-scale, real-world game. 

But it doesn’t really matter how I impressed I was.  Four months later, Kevin was becoming an ever fainter memory.  I’ve been pinballing around Europe and North America.  And with a memory like mine, unless there is some kind of reinforcement, the node in memory slowly begins to…go…out.  (I was in fact beginning to forget about Kevin altogether when the idea for this blog occurred to me. )

Now, take the case of Ed Tam.  I meant Ed at Interesting2007, Russell Davies’ event in London last week.  Smart guy, really impressive.  I remember thinking, as we stood drinking at the bar, "geez, if ever there’s another Sir Martin Sorel, this could be the guy."  As it turns out, Ed is in transition and will be relocating to Hong Kong.  There’s a good chance I won’t ever see him again.  (Unless again he turns out to be the next Sir Martin Sorel.)  In fact, by October (4 months, from now)  there’s a good chance that Ed will be a diminished and diminishing memory, too. 

And this is where Facebook comes in.  Ed is now one of my friends on Facebook, so I keep seeing his name there.  And this is enough to persuade me (ok, I’m an idiot), that we are still in touch.  Now, if Ed had a real picture of himself (he uses a Wii image), I would have a still more vivid sense of him.  And if he posted his daily activities, as other friends do, I would have a really vivid sense.  I would now his life as well as I do that of Charles Frith. 

So, Facebook supplies the repetition and the additional details to allow the network and memory node to form.  And it turns out that this works not only for new acquaintances, but also for quite good friends.  Debbie Millman and I know one another quite well, but we travel in different orbits.  Having her on my Facebook list makes her more vivid too.

Facebook is better than LinkedIn in another way.  I’m persuaded that all this networking is going to pay off soon.  We will see it help to sort the world, so that we end up knowing more people who share our interests, and more people who have the interests we need to make our own.  As it stands, LinkedIn does not capture enough information to make this sorting possible.  Facebook, plainly, does.  See my StuffCloud for instance.  This is a list of the things that interest me.  One of these days it will be used to discover contacts in a way that LinkedIn, as it is now constituted, never can. 

As it stands, the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook is a little like the difference between Microsoft and Apple.  The first term in both cases is business like, narrow, not very imaginative, and it reduces our complexity so dramatically that it may record our social connections, but it is not likely to help us create them.  The second term is, well, a little more lifelike.   Like the networks we’re going to care about. 

11 thoughts on “How networks work: FaceBook vs. LinkedIn

  1. DC1974

    Hmm… I might have to give Facebook a try. I sort of think that those sites that focus on personal details are more geared toward hooking up. I know this isn’t true at some level, but still that seems like a partial motivator. Showing my complete social networking irrelevance (and I’m only 33!) — I keep my Friendster page and my LinkedIn page at that seems to be it right now. Perhaps Facebook is somewhere in between — if so I should give it another look.

  2. Jamie

    Grant, I see what you mean to some extent. LinkedIn can seem one-dimensional at times and I also tend to lose track of some of the people I’m connected with. Basically, LinkedIn is an advanced business card which is great for managing your business contacts or getting new ones. Facebook is a great socializing network that really does fit the postmodernist human being with so many different ‘boxes’ to jump around in! But (and this is perhaps where my own one-dimensional, modernist personality takes over!) I have a hard time in mixing ‘business with pleasure’ in the sense that I don’t think the two worlds always should be intertwined. I don’t know if my personal day-to-day experiences or interests that I post on Facebook should be readily accessible to all of my business contacts as well. That is why, for the time being, I’m going to keep my LinkedIn profile as well and hope that the LinkedIn staff create a site with more features (uploading a picture with your profile for instance?!)….

    P.S. you really had me going on the James Gandolfini shooting spoof article!;) Cheers Jamie

  3. ed

    Grant, not only do you have a sharp pen, you are also a gentleman. To be honest, other than my dimunitive height I don’t see how I resemble Martin Sorrell. =) Regardless, I thank you.

    I think you made a great point about facebook. It is almost like a peripheral radar, bleeping on the corner of your eyes. We should coin a term for this. Something like ubiquitous presence/digital phantom etc. Faris talked about something rather similar called phatic communique.
    But I think it’s more than that. “Phatic” suggests almost like a reflex response that you have no control over. The fact is I love reading status updates and photo updates and I’m quite active about reading them.

    On that note, I’ll update my status right away.

  4. botogol

    I too have been checking out facebook (haven’t we all?) and overcome with enthusiasm I have even invited you to be my ‘friend’.
    Here’s some thoughts.

    1) “friend” is *not* the right word is it? I’m not sure what the right word is: mate? contact? networker? node? circle member? acquaintance? fellow-traveller…. I don’t know, perhaps a brand-new word is needed

    2) I have been part of (and moderated) a number of net communities and Facebook is the *first place* where I have felt pushed to use my real name. Facebook seems to be built around real-world networks, rather than virtual ones, it seems designed to facilitate real world meetings. Examples: it pushes ‘networks’, and these are completely ‘real-world’ oriented (location / workplace / college). To join my work-place network I need to reveal my workplace email address (and name). Interesting. I joined as botogol, I think I’ll have to join again…

    3) It’s still rather American. (England, rather than UK, “High School” OK I can work that out but “Class Year”? What’s that? Cambridge is a recognised place of education, but not the colleges (ie they don’t understand Cambridge) How much effort is it really to be more international? If it’s $1bn company they could fix that

    4) Granularity: One network for all of London? One network for all of New York? Sorry, Facebook, that doesn’t work. I’d sooner join the Manhattan network than mix with people from North of the River…

    ..But it has a certain something, doesn’t it?

  5. Todd

    Grant, the two systems you compare seem to reflect two different purposes, as many others have noted … one for keeping track of and in touch with business contacts, the other for creating that sense of spontaneity that comes from being around other unique like-minded individuals. The way you describe your use for Facebook seems similar to the way I use Bloglines … feeds collected more for keeping certain people and topics on the edges of my personal radar so that they don’t get lost forever in the depths of my memory.

    It also strikes me that co-working serves a similar purpose … in the words of Chris Messina from this co-working video (, it’s a way of “accelerating serendipity”. Creative friction that comes from having multiple ideas/relationships randomly crossing paths can often produce moments of stunning brilliance.

    Some genius just has to provide a way of letting us dole out elements of our lives to others in an ever widening circle of relationships via a single system … much like, as I understand it, OpenID would allow me to disclose key pieces of identity (or multiple facets of my identity) based upon who is seeking the information.

    As usual, great thought-provoking post!

  6. Amelia Torode

    Great post and the discussions afterwards really added something extra. One of the features that I love about FB is the random 6 pix of FB buddies that come up on your profile page – a little visual jolt to remind you to Poke/Message/scribble on their Wall just to say hi and to keep in touch.
    Couple of other thoughts – I still think that what I call the “layers of friendship” issue still needs to be addressed. I find it odd when on my FB homepage I see the notes that friends leave on other friends walls. They are not leaving notes for me to see and I feel like somehow I am intruding (and I bet that they are not aware that there words on coming up on my FB)
    Asi had some good thinking on FB Vs personal blogs, which you might not have seen:

  7. Charu

    I am surprised by this comparison between facebook and linkedin – basically surprised that you are trying to compare the two at all. to me, the two have different purposes – linked is my “professional” networking site (oh, if only I took it more seriously, given my consultant-often-at-a-loose-end status!) and I like the way it works for me – the Donald Ducks of the internet cannot breezily drop by with a message there – and facebook is more a “personal /social” networking site. exactly the way you have described it.

    most reviews I have read compare facebook with orkut (which does have many many of the Donald Ducks mentioned above) – several orkut users are migrating to facebook, thanks to the tighter rules about who can be your friend (oh yes, friend may not be the right term – it makes me hesitate before pinging someone there – you, for instance) and who can see your profile.

    (I write all this and see others have said it before – never mind – heres goes)

  8. botogol

    With facebook now worth $15bn (madness, surely?) I remembered this post.

    Doesn’t June seem like a long time ago, now? I don’t suppose facebook was worth more than six or seven billion then 🙂

    Four months on, I increasing tend to think that the key differentiator of Facebook is that it’s the first successful app which has persuaded people to list themselves under their *real name*.

    I suspect that alone might account for a good chunk of the $15bn valuation: I use google a lot. google have a whole pot of information about the likes dislikes and habits of ‘botogol’ How much more value will microsoft/facebook create by attaching that profile to a real, actual person. A killer app indeed?

  9. pnautilus

    So how do I juggle my FACEBOOK vs. LinkedIn persona. LinkedIn is my tuxedo face, all burnished and polished, prim and proper. FACEBOOK is where my college friends come to rag on me about being legit. It’s where I have pictures of my wife and daughter. Is that really the level of personal involvement I want to share with future employers and business partners. Some might venture then that my LinkedIn profile is a lie, that is a fabricated, falsified version of the real me, one with no place in today’s transparent world. My problem is that while my peers were getting addicted to myspace I was in Brasil doing missionary work. I missed the whole, “Let’s get crazy, take pictures, and then put them out there for the world to see.” I like my Chinese wall.

    My babblings bring me to this, will I now have to manage my social media personae much the same way I manage my corporeal ones? Or do I just embrace the future and tear off the tuxedo face mask, revealing something not so polished and a good bit more manic? Only time will tell I guess.

  10. Gargoyle

    As Charu said, don’t you think the difference between Facebook and Linked In is the difference between home and work? At least that’s how I’ve seen it and I must say that they’ve both worked for me in their respective spheres. Office party’s one thing, “let’s party” is quite another. Mixing the two is not always wise 🙂

    But yes LinkedIn should add some “reminder modules” – you tend to forget who’s on your list. They’ve started now. There’s a status option of sorts and a home page that tells you what other people are doing. I assume they’ll be adding more stuff soon.

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