Networking Without the Legwork

Who knows you? It’s a lot of work to get out there and meet people. It’s even more work to convince people to remember you. I know extraordinary professionals who are very well-connected without the help of Facebook, LinkedIn, search engine optimization, press or a single personal photo online. They largely don’t exist on the internet at all. These men and women spent years hitting the pavement to scale their network. As a result, they maintain a rich foundation of personability and respect with many people. That level of connection is difficult to beat.

Armed with tools of the internet era, we have the opportunity to make an impression on the world from our couches. While not as intimate or thorough as in-person meetups, you can at least blip on people’s radars. Social media can hold your name in the periphery of others and help you stay current. Blogs and content publishing can entertain, inspire and connect. These channels are fantastic for providing value to others and making impressions on people you’ve never met. Hustling in the streets could not possibly connect me with some of the people I’ve gotten to know through this blog. Content online can reach unforeseen places and open many doors you could not reach in person. Without thorough research and planning, legwork in the field can waste a lot of time and energy. Better to leverage accessible platforms to make introductions and accelerate connections.

All that said, the internet is only a two-dimensional version of networking. Like a movie poster, it can only tease real relationship building. Introductions online should precede introductions in person to close the feedback loop and formalize interpersonal relationships. Only then can relationships have human stakes. With human stakes in tow, relationships hold richer value not easily replicated by applications or hardware.

Networking takes work. With or without the legwork, connections take a lot of time and energy to build and maintain. Make an impression online, follow through with connections, stay in touch with people from your past and spend time building relationships offline. It’s worth it. Trust me.

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Leaving A Data Legacy

I would love to know how my grandparents lived their lives half a century ago. Now that all but one have passed, I’m left with only a few pictures and stories. While there may be a Big Fish fantasy charm to the finite amount of information I have, my curiosity endures.

FoursquareI finally adopted Foursquare in January and checked in nearly a hundred times since. To this day, I struggle to find direct utility in the service (beyond specials, which I have never successfully used). That said, I am a data nut. I appreciate the value of collecting information on my life, whether I do anything with it or not. I’m too lazy to keep a journal, so social and location services help a lot. Despite the fact that my data may be used to serve the gains of others, I (perhaps naively) trust that these services will evolve to capture and interpret the nodes of my life back to me and all who follow.

I am of the camp that sees big data not as a violation of personal privacy, but as a path to building a data legacy. I don’t presume to become wildly famous and expect the world to care what I ate for breakfast yesterday. No, I mean to say that I want to leave slices of history for my children and children’s children to better understand me and the times I live in. Does anybody really care that I had Pad Thai for lunch yesterday? Fuck no. But the next generation might appreciate a rich data set on American dining habits and dietary evolution. My grandchildren might appreciate that Pad Thai is one of my favorite dishes.

Like donating your body to science, I want to donate the computed history of my life to the next generation of sociologists, historians and nostalgics. I want my grandchildren to have access to anything they could possibly want to know about me and learn from my mistakes. We all have an opportunity like never before to contribute to the nuance of our generation’s history books.

So, in spite of all this privacy hooplah, I will continue to check in and contribute to big data through applications and organizations that lend to a long shelf life and value for greater societal context.

Mobile Should Not Port Web (Or Vice Versa)

Cramming the web experience into a smartphone is naïve. Any person with a shred of user interface appreciation should understand that we interact with desktop or laptop computers in very different ways than our phones or tablets. The devices are not directly interchangeable. It amazes me how many designers and companies forget it. Many hop on the mobile bandwagon and try to squeeze every feature into a claustrophobic mess. What’s the point?

I loath Facebook’s latest mobile app. It overwhelms the user with every possible feature from the suite (a collection of nonsense that makes it the slowest and most cumbersome app on my Galaxy Nexus). I do not need access to my pages or Facebook apps; I do not want to curate user groups or manage my friend list. Even events should live outside of the app – preferably in my calendar where they belong. I just need my messages, wall and news feed while I’m on the go. That’s it. Save my processing for something else.

While by no means an elegant app, Wells Fargo keeps things focused by opening with only two options – mobile banking or find an ATM. No offers for loans. No investing or insurance. Just simple tools to manage my money on the go. That’s it. Straightforward, simple and relevant.

On the flip, many mobile-first applications forget that they can approach their mission from a completely different angle via the browser. Instagram, with the mission to “share your life with friends through a series of pictures,” has an irrefutable opportunity to expand photo consumption onto a larger palette. Right now, their website is an embarrassing static splash page. Imagine a stunning and immersive fullscreen browser magazine ripe with friends’ photos, updating live as their world evolves around you. A powerful experience you will never have on a 3.5 inch screen.

Mobile and web can help you approach your core mission from two different angles. The mobile experience should feel immediate, focused, actionable and succinct. The web experience should feel expansive, explorable, comprehensive and open.

Before you port your experience to one device or another, first ask yourself two (rather obvious) questions: (1) What tools do people absolutely need on their phones versus their computers and (2) how would user interaction differ with the same tools on different devices?

Mobile could let you explore all the comprehensive offerings of a cross-platform application if you want to, but the unique-to-mobile (U2M) experience should come first. The Foursquare check-in is a perfect example of a U2M tool that adds to the unique-to-browser (U2B) experience of exploring a map of your data.

More platforms should debate U2M versus U2B and not try to cram a square block into a round hole.

What Do You Get From Social Media?

Today’s major platforms have connected me with people I would have otherwise lost touch with and to a wealth of digital content shared by peers. Beyond that, I am slowly failing to identify with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+’s value propositions. I am very curious to hear from you, dear audience. What do you get from social media? What services do you use and how have they changed your life? How could they be better? If you have thoughts on the subject, I’d love to hear from you – simply post in the comments below or email me.

Inventory Your Relationships

When I say, ‘Inventory your relationships,’ I don’t mean, ‘Treat your friends like retail products on a stocking shelf.’ I mean, ‘Keep tabs on everyone in your network.’

Like reviewing notes taken in class, study your mobile contacts list, address book, or friends list. Take note of the people you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you find yourself curious about or missing updated information on a contact, you should reach out to him or her and catch up. Send a note, invite for coffee, arrange a phone or video call – whatever you find comfortable. Learn what keeps your friends busy, where their talents lie, what interests they have, and where they want to go next. Catch up, offer help if you can, and take notes to update your rolodex. Promise to stay in touch.

Never rule anyone out; people can change. Some of the shady characters in high school may have sobered up to start multi-million dollar businesses. You never know. You will be surprised what happens when you reach out to old relationships, especially the ones you were never close with before. You might uncover a great opportunity, discover a shared interest, or find romance. All three have happened to me. Partnerships of all kinds form out of rebooting network connections.

Recycling old relationships can be far easier than meeting new people because you already share common ground. I would even argue that keeping your network fresh by staying in touch is equally as important as growing your network, if not more so. As I have said before, it’s not about who you know, but who knows you. It is important that your contacts remember you. Stay fresh in other people’s minds, keep them fresh in yours, and keep your network strong.

It all starts by skimming your phone during downtime. Stay in touch.

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Dear Facebook: Stop Wasting My Time(line)

I just finished playing with Facebook’s new Timeline after unlocking it through this method. While it was an aesthetically pleasing experience, I closed my laptop and wondered, “What the hell did I really do in the last two hours of my life?” Reorganize personal updates for the sake of vanity and privacy? After seeing old college party photos mixed in with work updates, I felt the need to clean things up a bit. It took two hours of my time. And I’m sure there’s plenty more I should do to clean up six years of personal updates.

Who has time for that? What value do I get as a user from that time investment? And who really benefits from the new layout? At first, I believed in the biographical nobility of Timeline. But that wore off in 15 minutes. I think there’s a place for this sort of biography in the public search space, but not on Facebook’s community full of people who are supposed to be my friends. Access to the past is key, and I commend Facebook for making that easier for me. But I’m not sure its worth the time to manage it.

While Open Graph may be a game-changing release, the Timeline is not. A personal vanity biography is not a useful tool. Google’s new Hangout tools and productivity suites are useful tools. Facebook doesn’t seem to be solving the world’s problems; Facebook seems to be solving its own problems. I’m not impressed.

The Controversy of Change: Netflix, Facebook, and Chameleons

Many people freaked over Facebook’s face lift and Netflix’s reorganization. Yes, these changes are inconvenient. Some may break your routine or even damage your business. But what would you prefer instead? For the company or service to stay exactly the same?

Companies that fail to change fall prey to the market evolving around them. Inevitably, they are slain by the next best thing. By asking them to stay the same, you are asking them to fail. You are condemning the brand you embraced for so long to a slow death.

No, change may not always be good or necessary. But you cannot know until after you try. And neither can brands. No one has a crystal ball. Not even Steve Jobs. Smart leaders fail more often than lesser leaders and learn from their mistakes. They know that the biggest risk is avoiding risk altogether. You deserve to be eaten if you sit still in the savanna.

Like puberty, change may always be an ugly process. Some coast through it smoother than others. Those who make it out clean never forget who they are or what they believe in. A strong brand transforms with the market, but keeps its core mission at heart.

Embrace the chameleon business. Invest in progressive brands with solid foundation, not products destined for revision or absolution. If you truly believe in a brand, you should trust in change. Forgive the minor transgressions and take pleasure in discovering the next step along the way.