Making Social Networking Work
The key to understanding the social networking phenomenon is realizing that it's really two separate areas. The first area is growing your network. Sites like Friendster place their emphasis on letting you find new friends (although the focus is ostensibly on friends of friends). The second are is leveraging your existing network. Sites like LinkedIn emphasize facilitating information transactions within your existing network.
While Friendster has gotten most of the attention to date, I've become more and more impressed with LinkedIn. Just today, LinkedIn sent me an email announcing the feature I've been screaming about for months: The ability to import your Outlook Contacts to find out which of your contacts are already on LinkedIn. I immediately imported my 1,000+ Contacts, and discovered that about 50 were already on LinkedIn--not bad, considering I had fewer than 30 connections at the beginning of the day.
Plus, with LinkedIn's case-by-case control over making and forwarding requests, it manages to overcome the queasiness that I might feel about sharing my contact list.
I still think that LinkedIn should display Level 1 contacts (friends-of-friends), but they're already making themselves fairly useful. Who knows, in a couple of years, I might even pay for it!