Social Networking for Social Change... Missing pieces

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I've been thinking a lot lately about the best way to go about networking groups of people who share common interests or experiences, whether it's conference attendees, trip alumni, organization members, or whomever. Which is why I showed up at this Online Social Networks panel. I was hoping for some new ideas on how to establish better online linkages and communication channels between the spokes and individuals of an organization.

So I asked the panelists how they'd advise or approach networking a group like Net2 participants. Dimitri responded by suggesting that my question was missing the point because we're already networked through existing social web tools like tagging which enable us to find any content related to Net2. And Ginger added that it's not about the tools, it's about the community.

But just because we have an advanced constellation of social software tools like Flickr, Technorati, and Delicious does not mean that we have effective ways to keep networks of humans connected.

There are ways to make online networks more similar to real-world social networks, but we're not doing it well enough today. Ami and I brainstormed a bit further on this after the session. For example, wouldn't it be great if everyone coming to Net2 added photos and personal interest tags to their profiles before arriving and then the website gave you a list of the top 10 people that you should meet based on your common interests.

Part of the problem is that these things aren't built into basic software installs or web packages, so we don't think of it. And it's a lot harder to think through the best way to network a specific community than, for example, to start a blog on blogger.com. It's not that these networking tools don't necessarily exist, it's that they're not easily accessible or customizable to social change networks.

I'm eager to think through a project plan around this with anyone who's interested.