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Show Your Face! October 10, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking.
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This week, LinkedIn took a huge step forward when they finally started including profile photos in the popups that appear when you hover over a person’s name. Previously, the popup displayed a textual summary of a person’s profile data. The addition of the photo makes the popup profile much more useful.

I am a big fan of including pictures in your online profiles for these kinds of sites. The primary reason is selfish: it makes it easier for me to remember names and faces when I can see a person’s picture. I make it a practice to copy these photos into my Outlook address book; they’ll appear in the header of emails when possible and get synced to my phone as well. On more than one occasion I have been at some sort of gathering and used the pictures in my phone to confirm someone’s identity before walking up to say hello. They also show up in the caller ID display when I receive calls.

Photos are a huge part of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, but are notably missing in most professional sites like Plaxo and LinkedIn. Why? I suspect that most people are too self-conscious to include a photo with their professional profile, or only have casual photos that don’t convey an appropriate professional demeanor.

Too self-conscious? Get over it. The value of your photo in cementing connections with people far exceeds your concern over having a “good” picture of yourself online. Moreover, most people are far too picky in choosing a picture of themselves. People who know you accepted what you look like long ago. Few of us are supermodels; the rest are just average-looking people.

Inappropriate photo? Not a problem. For online photos to be effective, you must crop them tightly, showing only your face. The latest fad is to crop even tighter, clipping off the edges of your face. Either way, those embarrassing background details won’t show up. Just find any photo that shows your face clearly, crop out everything else, and get it posted online.

So get going! Find a photo, crop it, and post it. Your profile will be much improved as a result, and I’ll certainly be happier, along with everyone else in your online network.

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Imperfect Integration April 15, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Networking.
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Social networking sites are getting too clever by half, providing more and more features to lure users into their web of connected people.  What they are missing are the features that connect their “walled gardens” to other equally useful networks.

As I’ve posted before, I like different systems for different features.  LinkedIn is the gold standard for professional networking, delivering controlled access to professional colleagues in a manner that most closely mimics (and respects) real-world relationships.  Plaxo is the best contact management tool I’ve seen, with unparalleled cross-platform synchronization.  The Plaxo Pulse, which provides a Twitter-like stream of activity for your connected contacts, is interesting and becoming more useful.  My blogging platform is WordPress, which seems to meet my (limited) needs at this point. To be honest, I don’t know that I have the energy for Twitter, although I’m willing to tinker with it.

The problem with these systems is that they don’t play well together.  They want to attract users, confine them to their system, and keep them there for all levels of service.  I understand the rationale: eyeballs = dollars.  But I dislike the constraints, which makes it harder to use all the services.  I want them to interoperate seamlessly, but they aren’t there yet.

Plaxo makes an attempt at this, allowing you to hook feeds from other sites (like this blog) into your Plaxo pulse.  The problem is that Plaxo pulls the content into Plaxo, instead of connecting to the actual source.  As a result, updates lag and the Plaxo version gets out of date when I update the content.  More importantly, readers in Plaxo don’t see the full blog unless they click through to it.  Reading this in Plaxo?  Click here to read these posts in their full glory, see what I am reading, explore the archives, peruse the tag cloud, and subscribe directly (if you are so inclined).

LinkedIn has fairly pathetic contact management.  Why can’t it get my contacts from Plaxo, so that everything is in sync everywhere?  Why can’t LinkedIn connections be mirrored in Plaxo automatically (and vice versa)?  LinkedIn also has a simplistic Twitter-like feature, as does Plaxo.  Why can’t LinkedIn and Plaxo integrate my Twitter stream so I can update things in one place and see them everywhere?

I suspect this will all happen in due time as this space coalesces and matures.  Like other web technologies (and the web itself), we need this period of experimentation and overlap to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  At some point, it will settle out, great sums of money will change hands, and one integrated system will remain.  Until then, we’ll all be updating lots of similar sites, over and over again.