Sociable Networks and Social Progress

Who’s building our social networks? Are they people who have ever been networkers? It’s an important question because it’s unlikely a house can be built by someone who’s only lived in apartments.

Like Doc, I’m fed up with sites that foment relationships and conversation and nothing else. We need sites that foment action. Successful people don’t network for relationships and conversation. They network to generate action:

Deals, votes and praise.

Here’s a scary probability:

Builders of social networking sites are rarely social or networkers. At best, they build tools slightly informed by the traits of their parents’ most successful friends.

Social networking web sites are not designed for the magic that real-world networkers call networking. They are a collection of ad hoc tools based on what seems to build traffic at the current social networking site du jour.

Background

The redoubtable Mike Melillo and I had a fascinating phone call Friday with a smart young woman who is a deal-maker and, it seems, a bit of a king-maker. She wants to understand more about web-based social networks and whether they can achieve the kinds of effects she does with her brains and charm and connections and lots of air miles. In other words:

Can web networking aggregate people and dollars into deals?

My answer was the only possible response about software: “Yes, but.”

Here’s the problem with so-called “Social Networking”: It doesn’t reflect the real-world dynamics of the networkers who change the world.

Web networking has unlimited potential for deal-making, but we’re still missing some infrastructure. That’s not surprising. Our friend’s current deal-making depends on a coincidental infrastructure of cell phone systems and airlines and fabulous clothes and the skills and sensibilities that several generations of a successful family bestow on She-Who-Is-A-Dealmaker. Those did not arise overnight. Nor will online protocols immediately map those activities onto the web.

Online banking happened faster. So did matchmaking. And flight reservations. But those are all mass marketing needs, so it’s not surprising that they showed up before deal-making.

But deal-making is more important to get right, and here’s why:

There are a lot of conversations on the web, but precious few deals. Why is that? First, we have to understand the architecture of deals and why they matter so much. When Donald Trump criticizes the Bushies for being wimps, he objects to their inability to make deals, because they do not possess the openness and willingness to sit down with a known competitor and imagine a better tomorrow. As The Donald suggests, that alone should be enough to throw the bastards out (“Even the people who like us hate us!“).

Deal-making is the most human of workflows.

That’s because deal-making presumes this: Equals dealing with equals, finding common ground that any of the parties could easily flee, yet they hang out together until the deal is closed, accepting the bad parts because of the good parts.

What’s going on here? What’s happening is deal-making:

The single most inspirational vector of human enterprise

Though it’s an art most often practiced by the most elevated members of our society, should that turn us off? I don’t think so. Every one of us–even a dealmaker–is descended from serfs, and any of us can master the art of the deal. If you’d like to be rich or powerful or useful, read on, for there’s no difference among the skills that produce those outcomes.

“And of all of these, the useful is the most sacred.”

Moving the needle. That’s how Steve Urquhart describes the contribution of Politicopia.com, which he built as a Utah Legislature feedback wiki last February.

And that’s the first site to get the ORGware treatment. With any luck, it will generate action and not just conversation.

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