For about as long as routers, switches and cables have been connecting critical functions of the business network, people have been using that same technology to connect socially — whether for sharing notes on open source tool configuration, trading MP3s of their favorite bands, or swapping recipes for SPAM Fra Diavolo.
While the former may have its place in the business world, the latter can drain productivity and bandwidth if employees are “networking” on the clock. But this week, SearchCIO news writer Shamus McGillicuddy reported on a recent study that concluded fewer than half of IT managers polled banned employee use of sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
What’s interesting is how quickly many businesses have not only shrugged their shoulders at this phenomenon, but have actually jumped on the social networking bandwagon. For example, a year ago, McGillicuddy reported how IT execs were willing to exploit the Web 2.0 wave by getting into blogging and other online community-building activities. And in September, blogger Jeff Kelly wrote:
The social networking application market will grow to over $420 million dollars by 2009, a whopping 815% increase from its 2006 size of $46.8 million, according to a recent report by IDC. As the market develops, the report continues, social networking functionality will increasingly be built directly into the foundations of communication platforms including email and IM. (Batten down the hatches: Enterprise social networking market set to explode!)
So what does this mean for networking pros, aside from more traffic to support on the IP network? First, I wonder whether the benefits of shared information will ever be enough to warrant taking time out of a schedule already overwhelmed with building, maintaining and troubleshooting the network, dealing with end users, and putting out fires. I also wonder whether online social networking will ever replace the much more chaotic and interesting real-world networking on the trade show floor or at the vendor-sponsored cocktail party, where you can raise a glass to your favorite router along with a new-found friend who shares your taste in skewered mini-meats.
In reality, for regular companies (not media conglomerates and hip online startups) it may just be “blogging and other online community-building activities” that catch on for the meantime, if any. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been skeptical of the value of blogs, especially the sort of “here’s where my cat threw up today” blogs that clog so much of cyberspace. But one quality I do find potentially valuable is the egalitarian spirit blogging encourages. Publishing is no longer kept to the domain of the gatekeepers; virtually anyone can go online and post their ideas. Community is built grassroots style, from the ground up, rather than dictated from above. Also, where online media is concerned, the reader can now participate in a conversation — as Paul Gillin pointed out in his blog essay “The new journalism.” Social networking (or “social media,” to use Gillin’s terminology) builds community and opens a dialogue between its participants.
That’s the reason why SearchNetworking.com launched The Network Hub as part of the IT Knowledge Exchange. In the ITKE, IT professionals can gather, share problems and solutions, and create a knowledgebase of useful information. Moreover, ITKE is a community of IT professionals — segmented by the interests you select when you register. We hope this distinguishes the ITKE from other, generically social sites. You can ask very specific questions, directed at other qualified people who can collaboratively build answers to your questions. This should save you time in your network troubleshooting and other job functions — a far cry from wasting your day downloading 8-second “Flock of Seagulls” samples (although we don’t necessarily condemn this practice). You can also read IT blogs, like The Network Hub, and post comments — or even start your own blog.
We believe our readers have plenty of expertise in networking (the routers and switches kind) and we want to help you share that knowledge with us and each other, using the “other” kind of networking.