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Is Social Networking Broken?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on June 12, 2005

Super-hyped social networking is exploding, with new ways to link up to others being added daily. Cell phone maker Nokia just released its Nokia Sensor, an application allowing users to create personal pages, filled with text and graphics, that they can share with others via their phones’ Bluetooth wireless connections.

Online social networking sites are offering a multitude of ways — IM, e-mail, Web-based calling and video — for members to get in touch with one another.

It’s not enough to allow people to contact one another, however. What many social networking sites are struggling with is, How do you facilitate social interactions without annoying users, big time?

Increasingly, social networking sites are being bombarded with complaints. Just check out this post. The author, Adam Kalsey, talks about how he keeps on getting invites to link up to other members of social networking site. The problem is, he has no idea who the people inviting him to join their group are.

Address book/social networking site Plaxo recently actually posted its official social networking manners guide, which can be found here. It asks users to stop bombarding others with spam.

Meanwhile, spam and unwanted contacts are just the tip of the iceberg here. A recent Cnet article points out that, once you come to a social networking site, "there's nothing to do there". Ok, I think this statement is too harsh. Yet, I know people who were really excited about social networking sites when they just popped up. Now, some of these friends are visiting these sites less and less often.

Unless concerns like spam and unwanted contacts are addressed, I am afraid social networking could go the way of the much-hyped dot-coms of the late 1990s.

Then, we'll have to keep in touch with friends via e-mail and old-fashioned phone calls. And who would want that.

Reader Comments

Jack Krupansky

June 12, 2005 12:15 PM

I do a fair amount of online networking, but virtually all of it is via my own web sites, searching, email, email-based discussion forums, and blogs. I have a modest LinkedIn network as well, but it's hardly more than a after-the-fact contact list than a *source* for networking.

That said, I recognize that I'm not your typical online user.

Oh, and I am speaking strictly of professional networking, not non-business "social" networking. Of course, the context here is "Business"Week.

-- Jack Krupansky


June 12, 2005 2:40 PM

Hi, Olga,
While I agree with some of the concerns your raise, I believe that you'll find that perceptions of Linkedin have changed a bit since Feb 2004 Adam Kalsey's post you quote about Linkedin.

The June 2005 version of Linkedin is very different than the Feb 2004.

In the ensuing 16 months, Linkedin has averaged 100,000+ members per month. I believe that that rate of growth helped changed people's perceptions about using Linkedin as a legitimate business development tool

Sixty Eight weeks is an eternity in business these days.

Heck, very few of the 1,200+ members ere on My Linkedin Power Forum were even talking to each other 68 weeks ago! :-)

Vincent Wright
Creator/Moderator, My Linkedin Power Forum
vmwusa_2000 at yahoo

Christian Mayaud

June 12, 2005 3:13 PM

These complaints are really do to a complete misunderstanding about online social networking. As the public becomes more knowledgeable, they will use these less -- NOT becasue they aren't useful but because they now know what they are used for and no longer will people confuse the "novelty" level of usage with the steady-stage "utility" level of use.

For more on this check out "Right-Sizing Your PANs, CANS, and FANs"

Carol Anne Ogdin

June 12, 2005 4:08 PM

Duh! People share their eMail addresses, IM addresses, cell phone numbers and they're surprised when they get unexpected messages?

How dense (or desparate) can these people be?

"Social networks" (as hyped on the WWW) violate a fundamental principle of social network in real-life: They're contextual. You don't advertise your eMail address and hand them out on the street, do you?

Social networks are based on trust. The purpose of rhe really good technology-based social networks (e.g., knowledge-sharing groups within corporations) is to convey transitive trust (I trust you, you trust Joe, so I start off by trusting Joe in initial contacts).

The problem lies in the rush to build something on the WWW by geeks who don't understand simple, elementary principles of socialization. Just because a system can technologically be constructed is no indicator of whether it will serve a useful purpose. Principles of good system design start with an understanding of the subject. There are easy cures for the problems you outline...but I wouldn't rely on technolgists to conceive of them. (For instance, if Joe is linked from your information, why shouldn't I ask YOU to introduce me?

Craig Calle

June 12, 2005 8:17 PM


It's worth revisiting your article on that you wrote on May 10, 2005:

We started because we felt the social software industry was promising, but the products hitting the market in the last year or so had major shortcomings. Most social networking sites involve the promotion of virtual chain letters, with friends inviting friends inviting friends, etc. This form of solicitation increasingly is considered unwelcome and therefore a source of spam. They also involve the use of open profiles on the participants; sort of like wearing your life on a public bulletin board for others to scrutinize. We avoid both of those design flaws in our approach.

Both our online networking application and our mobile social software icebreaker called MORCA benefit from our unique, discreet and comprehensive way of showing two parties just what they have in common. Success in this business will be a function of the designer's ability to mimic the natural way people network in the real world, respecting sociatal norms and privacy concerns, while overlaying powerful interactive technology.

Mobile applications like Nokia Sensor, Jambo Networks, and others essentially project one's personal profile for others to snatch from the airwaves and scrutinize. There will those who can get comfortable doing that. Not us. Privacy concerns are real and growing, be it from fear of stalkers, identity theft, etc. Our approach to designing relationship capital management applications that bridge the online and offline worlds accomodates these very real concerns.

David McClure

June 13, 2005 12:57 AM

there are settings for LinkedIn to prevent unwanted/unfamiliar requests that don't come directly from your 1st-degree connected network.

Adam just needs to set his preferences appropriately.

While there's perhaps a case to be made for what the default settings are, i don't think the general complaint can be made without some requirement for the user to understand the tool.

complaining that cars are unsafe because they go too fast without understanding what brakes and seatbelts are all about is not the manufacturer's problem. it's called RTFM ;)

- dave mcclure


June 13, 2005 9:32 AM

There's an interesting response to this here:

steve c sherman

June 13, 2005 12:03 PM

We’ve seen numerous other companies launch a Bluetooth enable social networking applications, but I think this is the first time that a handset producer such as Nokia has launched this type of service…

A proximity social networking service like this, if it was based on open standards and worked across different handsets and developers could create and enhance their own client applications could see traction in adoption, but keeping it closed and working on one set of handsets, I think will have very little widespread adoption...

Dave Taylor

June 13, 2005 10:44 PM

Very interesting article, Olga, and at some level I share your concerns about whether social and business networking sites can stay focused. I've watched Ryze, for example, devolve from a business networking site into an MLM recruitment site, and Orkut collapse into a purely social network when I was hoping it'd be more business-oriented (I have plenty of friends, it's potential partners and JV's I seek).

Having said that, I have to say that LinkedIn has proven surprisingly valuable as a professional networking tool. You do have to open up your connections a wee bit, but if you attend a conference and your name's printed in the roster, it's the same basic thing (as far as I'm concerned, at least).

Further, it's very easy to *decline* invitations to join LinkedIn networks, and I do that with some frequency: My logic is that if it's not someone I know, someone I've worked with, or someone who shares an overt interest of mine, we can communicate via email rather than "link up".

In the last few weeks I've received a consulting job opportunity from someone in my network, partnered up with an Australian LinkedIn member to work on a series of ebooks, and much more. I've also made connections with fellow business authors through some search sessions too, an invaluable opportunity.

My network is about 100 people right now, and I have found that once I put some effort into having an accurate and informative profile and a willingness to try and help the community grow and improve. I've also found the team at LinkedIn willing to hear about improvement ideas and continually pushing to grow the network too.

My profile:

Naina Redhu

June 14, 2005 2:46 AM

First of all, LinkedIn cannot be considered as a "social" networking site. It is an online business networking portal. Secondly, as others in their comments have pointed out, the post made by Adam Kalsey is old.

I am not much of a Social networker - not because I have not been inclined to use the social networking portals like Orkut, but because I have used them and found that unless I really have a lot of time to waste, I have no real "benefit" participating on these portals.

However, not only do I see innumerable benefits of being part of a business network on portals like LinkedIn and openBC , I have actually experienced the benefits which range from thought-provoking discussions, new associates and contacts, to actually making money and doing business. And even though I am based in Bombay, India, 90% of the business that I have generated from participating on online business networking portals like LinkedIn and openBC, has been from overseas clients.

The classy business networking portals like LinkedIn and openBC provide ample amount of control on who I want to connect with and what information I want to reveal to each person on my network. These portals empower the users. What might be considered as Spam by me might not be considered so by someone else. Of course, if one signs up on Orkut and displays a personal e-mail to everyone, like someone mentioned above, "dense" would be the appropriate word to describe the person. But we are learning, albeit slowly.

If I send out Spam on my business network, it will not be overlooked. Not only will I stand to lose professional contacts that I have put in effort to connect with, I will also lose credibility for future requests to connect. Also, I might lose membership to the business networking portal altogether. I send out an e-mail to all my network contacts (more than 1200 people and growing) every month. Till today only three have sent me personal e-mails and asked to be removed from the e-mail since they did not feel that it suited their needs or requirements. Business networking makes that possible.

As for unwanted contacts, online business networking allows us to say "No". And if we do not say "no" when we feel that the contact is unwanted, we will complain how our connections list is growing larger with "unwanted" contacts.

Online business networking is not limited to just reading profiles on the networking portal and writing a monotonous request to connect. Everyone has links to blogs or websites on their profiles and we can find out more about them using those links. Read: Request to Connect on the Business Networking Blog:

Strangers are friends we have yet to meet. Unless we connect with people we do not know, how can we ever hope to know them?

DiMtri Hage

July 1, 2005 5:18 PM

Hi Olga,

I tend to agree with some of your observations about social networks in general but you'll have to distinguish between the business networks such as LinkedIn and the other social networks. Also, you'll have to be a user to appreciate what LinkedIn can provide you, - I sent you an invite to join my professional network and I attached in a separate email a note and a resume/bio-. I'm hoping that you'll accept and start using it, then you may post your true observations.

I'm considered a power user, but I use LinkedIn differently. I never uploaded a database, never posted my email address on my profile, I reject many invites, I hardly ever send a request for an introduction. Most of my network is an extension and another tool for conducting business as a corporate bizdev professional in the high-tech industry. I simply use linkedin as an additional research tool when I searching individuals and companies etc. I've made many great contact and friends all over...

You might want to give LinkedIn a try.

Scott Ingram

September 10, 2005 10:11 AM

Social networking certainly isn't broken. It always has been and probably always will be one of the most powerful way to develop business and find opportunities. Primarily because a strong relationship will almost always trump any other form of advertising or marketing.

The social networking websites such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc. are really just tools. I think a lot of folks are expecting too much from them. Spamming people, and contacting people you don't know are not networking. They're just weaknesses in the tools. When used properly they can be very effective, but like anything else it takes time and effort to make them work.

My biggest concern with the social networking sites is that people are beginning to rely to heavily on them. As we spend more and more of our networking time online trying to make connections we're missing out on a critical part of networking. Face to face time. Only face to face can we truly communicate with each other and build the strongest kinds of relationships.

Social networking sites are great if we look at them for what they are: Tools. For any type of networking to be successful we have to remember the basics. Do what you say you're going to do, follow-up, help others get what they want first.

Happy networking!

Thom Singer

September 23, 2005 7:12 AM

Services like LinkedIn who get complaints about strangers asking to link are no different that going to a live networking event and getting hounded by that overbearing salesman who does not realize that meeting a person does NOT automatically make them part of your network.

Networking is a skill, and some people do not understand that .... or abuse what they do know. YOu will always have those people, you can only avoid them if you are a hermit.

But hiding from the world does not help you. You need to just realize building a professional network of contacts will not always be easy, and you wont like everyone. But the benefits of networking (in person or via a service like LinkedIn) can far out weigh the bad parts.


January 6, 2006 11:28 AM

I started my own social network www.Famuse.comn in hopes to build a better one..I use myspace, friends, hi5 ect... So i wanted to try to jump in and out do them...By adding feature and really trying to have the word SOCIAL mean somethng other then having 12,000 friends i dont know. I think the whole idea is still so new that no one has truely figured out how to use it.


October 11, 2006 10:28 PM

Social networking sites are now getting more targeted and cater to a more specific niche audience. One example being
which is targeted towards the Muslim Community for finding marriage partners, friends and for business networking. If networking sites need to keep going, they have to maintain the quality of the online environment.


October 24, 2006 12:59 PM

Haven't they just become a victim of their own success? I think current problems with oversupply, spamming and the boredom factor of ultimately being in front of a computer screen will push the industry to come up with new formats. I have launched which links members profiles to the bars,clubs and restaurants where they like to hang out - meaning no emails from random strangers and the possiblity of actually getting to know people in your local pub/bar before you even go there.


November 18, 2006 9:48 AM

I agree with a lot of what you have to say, but I do think the social networking site MySpace will be around for a long time as well as Facebook. They are a way to keep in constant contact with old friends and a good way to find your old friends without having to pay for a site like Classmates.

social networking

December 30, 2006 7:10 AM

I think such social networking won't be broken, in contrary - it becomes more popular.

Danny Bull

February 9, 2007 1:03 PM

Some interesting comments but I don't believe social networking per se is broken - it's up to site owners to combat the problems mentioned. I recently launched and our members don't seem afraid to of a little online connecting (though I'm sure it helps that all personal information is protected).


February 20, 2007 7:12 PM

Social networking has and will become more popular.
Every day there seems to be a new network popping up.
Look at for instance it's a social network that also includes business listings.

As time goes on you'll see alot more sites with their own unique niche.

net socializing

July 3, 2007 10:20 AM

Net Socializing has just begun. It may not be perfect, in fact it's a complete mess, but we're at the beginning of this web 2.0 social networking adventure. :)

Net Socializing is fun ;)


July 26, 2007 1:36 PM

I disagree. I believe social networking will continue to evolve and reinvent itself. For example take a look at the influx of family oriented social networking products in th emarketplace such as, the, These social networking services are changing the way even families interact with one another and will continue to experience accelearted growth for years to come.


December 1, 2007 9:36 PM

Online Community sites will have a place
as long as the internet has palace in society. People will always use social networking
tools to find new friends keep in touch with current friends and express themselves.
That is why we created a new Social Networking
website This Social Networking sites is for 18+ only Social Networking


July 26, 2008 8:08 AM

Social Networking it is alternative of dating sites. But for acquaintance for wedding marriage agencies is better.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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