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Do You Have 150 ‘Friends?’

Column: Final Thoughts

From the Oct. 2007 Issue

British anthropologist Robin Dunbar originally posited what’s now become
known simply as Dunbar’s number. The number, which is 150, was popularized
by Malcom Gladwell in his recent best-selling business book, “The Tipping
Point,” and represents the theoretical maximum size of group in which
all the members can maintain a “relationship.” Dunbar defined that
relationship as one that required every group member to know who each person
is and how each person relates socially to every other person in the group.
It’s generally accepted that group sizes larger than this usually require
more restrictive rules and regulations to maintain order. So what does this
have to do with us in the public accounting and technology community? I believe
it has plenty do with us, and I’ll explain why.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard
of MySpace. It’s the fabulously successful “social networking”
website owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. MySpace now includes nearly
200 MILLION accounts and claims to be adding accounts at the rate of 250,000
per DAY! Technology is, if not increasing Dunbar’s number, then, certainly
assisting in management of those individuals included in it. It’s my observation
that practicing accountants aren’t well-represented on MySpace (although
results for a search of “CPA” included 22,000 hits), nor are they
big users of the other players in the “social networking” field.

others I’d include in this space are Windows Live Spaces, Friendster,
Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo. While some are clearly student and personal-contact
oriented, others are moving inexorably toward the business and professional
space. Just over two years ago, Ried Elsiver’s LexisNexis unit acquired
Interface software and has now integrated it into its product line as a CRM
(Client Relationship Management) system. The interesting thing is that, at its
heart, Interface is a “social networking” system. Other vendors
are most certainly watching upstarts in this space. Facebook was, until recently,
limited to those with a dot-edu address — essentially, only students.
After opening the system to all comers just a few short months ago, Facebook
now claims that over 50 percent of its users (the latest count is nearly 50
million and growing 3 percent per WEEK) are non-students. In fact, Yahoo! offered
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg one billion dollars for the company, and he
turned it down. What’s going on here?

Simply stated, it’s the search for the Holy Grail. In this case, the
Grail is a single repository for everyone to keep in contact with everyone else.
I’m not at all certain that we’ll ever have that (or even if it’s
advisable), but I am sure that there are ramifications for practicing accountants.
Business and professional people are beginning to realize that the FOAF (friend-of-a-friend)
system of social networking is an efficient and helpful way to either manage
your 150 friends, or to significantly increase the number. Visionary practitioners
(notice I said visionary, not young; those terms are neither synonymous nor
mutually exclusive) are beginning to show up on these networks regularly. If
you’re smart, you’ll consider joining them. But how? And which one?
Who will win the race? What should we be doing? My advice? At a minimum, you
should be “discoverable” if someone is seeking you out. The following
are all FREE and can be implemented in a few hours.
Set up a LinkedIn account. You create a profile that details your education,
employment and professional accomplishments. Once you’re “found,”
former and current colleagues can “add” you to their networks as
a “connection.” And you can add them, as well. Your “connections”
are then visible to those to whom you are connected, and so forth. It’s
sort of like “six degrees” for real life! You add more connections
by inviting trusted contacts to join the system and connect to you, ultimately
linking you to thousands of other professionals.
Set up an account here, too. It’s just too active to skip. In 15 minutes,
you can have a respectable bio up and available. It’s much like LinkedIn,
but definitely serving a younger demographic. For now. It’s changing daily,
so why wait? One new client or one recruited employee makes it instantly worthwhile.
I’ve written about this before. It’s a no-brainer. They have over
15 million members, and every one of them who’s in your address book will
automatically and instantaneously be connected to you. Its beauty is in the
seamless exchange of contact information. When a member changes his or her contact
information, it’s automatically reflected in the address books of every
other connected Plaxo member. For example, I recently changed my fax number.
I simply updated my Plaxo account, and every one of my Plaxo member contacts
had my new number instantly. It’s very clever and very handy. In early
August, Plaxo rolled out a service called Plaxo Pulse, which holds great promise
in that “race for the Holy Grail.” It solves the multiple platform
problem through aggregation. It’s much too early to opine on Pulse, but
it does hold some promise.

Friendster, Windows Live Spaces and MySpace. These three are consumer level
and extremely youth oriented. Save your time; don’t bother.

Note: I’m listed on all three of the sites suggested above. When you
sign up, be sure to add me to your network. I promise to accept your invitation.