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June 24, 2003

Hey Baby, Wanna Network?

HawaiiStories fan and budding blogger Burt turned me on to Ryze a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, bloggers were abuzz with the launch of LinkedIn. Both were compared to Friendster, meanwhile, as well as the UK-centric Ecademy. Of course, I had to try them all.

Each has the same basic idea — fostering networks and making contacts, be they merely social or (ideally, in most cases) professional. It's all about trust, and friends of friends. I can see the promise of real, practical benefits, but so far it's mostly geeky fun.

Then again, my "network" is pretty small. Won't you be my friend?

I never really got the hang of "meatspace" networking. Showing up somewhere with a stack of business cards and a frozen smile. But as a "web communities" addict, taking the process online appeals to me.

Most of the players above are described as second- and third-generation relatives of the shuttered SixDegrees site... one of many spectacular dot-com crashes whose site still promises a comeback!

Each has pluses and minuses. Some say Friendster has too much of a playful, datemaker feel. (Then again, in the serious networking arena, sometimes you want to have fun instead of wading through proposals and solicitations.) LinkedIn took a more serious tack, eliminating photos and requiring more stringent network-building criteria, but it is criticized for being too restrictive. (I haven't been able to grow my network beyond my wife!) And I haven't really played with Ecademy all that much... I figure I need more friends across the pond, first.

Ryze, for me at least, is the closest thing to being... well, whatever these networking sites should be. I've already made some interesting contacts, and more notably — by following dynamic friend-of-friend links — I've been running into people I know halfway across the country. (The fact that it has subgroupings, a.k.a. "tribes," including one just for Hawai`i, helps a lot.) It has quick profile pages, guestbooks, message boards, private messaging, and, despite the homegrown look, lots of intuitive features and tools.

Because of the way networks work, each person with whom you make a link can link you to a dozen more, and so on. You and I could be connected to each other through someone we didn't know knew the other. In that way, these web networks are a lot like Hawai`i — surprisingly cozy small towns where everyone knows (and trusts, most of the time) everyone else in the immediate neighborhood.

True, to unlock the really good stuff, each of these sites have "premium memberships," none of which I'm willing to pay for. (The oft-suggested cross-system API would truly make these things a "killer app.") But, as an experiment in online communities at worst, and as a chance to connect with folks you might otherwise never stumble across at best, the basic setup is more than enough.

Besides, if you're really looking to drum up professional contacts, you could probably get more than you need, even with just the free version.

If you're a member at any of these sites, I'd love to hear your take on them. Paradigm-shifting new idea, or needless distraction? I'd also love it if you'd add me to your special club (ryanozawa@yahoo.com).

And if you're not, why not take 'em for a spin? I confess, I'd love to see a little HawaiiStories hub of interconnected geeks develop out there in schmooze-space.

Posted by Prophet Zarquon at June 24, 2003 02:56 PM


Posted by Keimano Tokoyami on June 24, 2003 4:55 PM:

A friend had just sent me an email, the night before, inviting me to join Friendster. I thought, "Sure, why not?" My "up" plummeted. First, I signed up but somehow missed the confirmation page. Most likely due to user (me) error, yet I tried again anyway. Couldn't use the same email address since I already signed up, so I waited and got the confirmation email. Went to log on and going through my profile setup, I decide to change my email. The one I used, the very same that my friend sent the invite to, is actually now dubbed my "spam trap." The email changed, but when I logged out and tried to log back in (with new email AND old), I couldn't.

A lot of fussing and spurting happened after that with me finally being able to log on. The outcome? My friend has me listed TWICE, neither accounts seem to keep the laboriously complex information I input to my profile (interests, description, dirty secrets, etc.) and my finally cancelling both accounts. Or at least I hope they're cancelled (since the extra one I cancelled first but didn't seem to DO anything).

Maybe I tried too many a thing that it could handle? Perhaps I should leave it be a couple days and then go back. Or I'll try that other one listed in your post, PZ. It can't be that I'm technically stunted. I mean, I at least know that ALT-F4 refreshes my IRC window. :P

Posted by Ryan on June 24, 2003 9:18 PM:

Hmm. Friendster must be buggy.

After my post, a friend I'd invited had similar problems with its e-mail validation setup. Then, when I tried to log in, for a while I got stuck in a loop wherein it insisted I create my profile (which I already created), but wouldn't let me get in to edit it. I had to close out all my browser sessions and re-login fresh.

It's weird. Most of the other sites look much better than Ryze (which seems to have a web design from 1996), but they're also more complicated. Take it from Google and (to a lesser extent Yahoo!), guys - simple is good.

Posted by cheyne on June 25, 2003 1:14 AM:

I haven't heard of this type of network before, but after reading about Ryze, I signed up for it in the name of science. Well, business science.

It is very simple and reminiscent of my first web pages I made using the Public Library terminal. Everything works as far as I can tell (coding-wise), but I'm still waiting to see if anyone will take me up on my offer of affordable web design services.

You can always count on me for a good consumer report. Just not now.

Will advice you later.

Posted by NemesisVex on June 25, 2003 3:55 AM:

There mustn't be a single visual designer on the staff of Ryze -- because it's freekin' ugly.

I spent a few minutes browsing around, then had to stop because I just couldn't stand to look at the thing anymore.

I don't mind the lack of graphics. But the way data is arranged on the page? Absolutely no sense of flow at all. Design is information, and Ryze doesn't tell me anything.

Posted by Ryan on June 25, 2003 7:53 AM:

I agree that Ryze's design is the most primitive of all of these networking sites, but at least it's fast loading, and I don't think it's arranged so bad so as to be useless. (I agree that "Design is information," but I've been to so-called reference sites that are harder to get around than Ryze.)

I got used to how my personal page is arranged fairly quickly, and how to get to stuff. My friends, my joined networks, etc. After all, the only real things to do there is browse other members' profile pages (and signing their guestbooks - how totally 1996!) and read the topic-based boards.

The only thing that really annoyed me (until I learned to ignore them) is how prominently "premium features" are linked on the home page, meaning half the links there take you to a page that says, "If you want this to work, pay up!"

Posted by Linkmeister on June 25, 2003 3:40 PM:

I neglected to click the validation link in the welcome mail yesterday. I have since done so at Friendster, and I'm in.

Posted by Noelani on June 30, 2003 11:40 PM:

I also received an invite to Friendster.. i liked the graphics - browsed through the "network" of 42 people I'm supposedly linked to - but of course only new the one friend who invited me. It appears the friend who invited him in - has many NYC ties - so the bulk of the network were based there. Quite an interesting group - but not sure if there are any new friends to be made by just reading their profiles...it lacks a forum of communication - other than requesting an introduction.
still a little too personal ads for me to think this will do any good for business networking.

Posted by Linkmeister on July 17, 2003 9:33 AM:

Update: here's a Wired News story about Friendster.

Posted by Ryan on July 17, 2003 10:02 AM:

Thanks for the link, Link! The article mentions other similar sites, but adds one I hadn't seen yet: Everyone's Connected. I'll have to try that next.

You also reminded me of an NPR segment on Friendster that aired on July 10.

I'm not sure why they, out of all the similar services, is suddenly getting coverage... my hat's off to their PR agency!

Posted by Ryan on August 26, 2003 5:07 PM:

Just another late update to this old thread to mention Tribe.net, which is yet another social networking/six-degrees site currently in beta. (Thanks to HawaiiStories regular Randy for the tip.) Friendster got all the press, but this place definitely has the cream of the crop when it comes to programmers. I like the setup better, and (at least until it becomes insanely popular) the site definitely serves faster. Check it out, if you're a webgadget addict like me!

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