Social Networking (Cont)

I attended a panel discussion on Social Networking last night moderated by my friend Lee Greenhouse.

The panelists included Mark Pincus of Tribe and Antony Brydon of Visible Path. I am an investor of both of these companies.

The other panelists were Andrew Weinrich founder of Six Degrees, who is arguably the pioneer of this whole social networking thing, and Adrian Scott of Ryze, and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn.

To be honest, I thought the discussion was boring and way too rambling and unfocused. But there were a few highlights.

In particular, I just loved Andrew Weinrich’s initial vision for Six Degrees. He wanted to build a “social network operating system” for the Internet. Six Degrees was to be a huge relationship map that would get plugged into everything on the Internet; eBay, Amazon, Monster, Match, etc. When you used any of these and other Internet services, you would see what your relationships knew about, said about, or did with any of these services. That was, and is, a big idea, and I wish it existed.

I also liked a concept of network interoperability that came out in some of the comments, but was never really drilled down on. None of us wants to join 10 or 20 social networks. The headache of filling out the profiles, interacting with the systems, etc is just too time consuming for most normal people. But we’d all like to be part of LinkedIn and Ryze for business networking, Tribe for classifieds, Friendster if we are dating, etc. Will there be a way that I can have one profile like I have one email address and each social network just takes that profile applies its own business logic and rules for its particular application and delivers value to me? I don’t know, but I’d like that to happen.

The other highlight was Antony Brydon’s announcement that Kleiner Perkins had invested in Visible Path and that Ray Lane was joining his board. That’s a big deal because Kleiner now has both a consumer-focused social networking investment, Friendster, and an enterprise-focused social networking investment, Visible Path.

I continue to think the enterprise model is easier to execute and should create lasting tangible value to its users more quickly. But I also have found LinkedIn to be useful and expect all of these services to be helpful to the users that have the time and energy to invest in them.

So my bet is that social networking is more than a fad that will come and go quickly. It’s a real business opportunity, but it will take time before these services become useful to more than technology enthusiasts and online daters.