I suppose it was inevitable that the whole “social networking” phenomenon — which until now has been pretty much a grassroots effort, aside from Google’s purchase of YouTube and News Corp. buying MySpace — would eventually attract the attention of the Big Iron boys. And by that I mean companies like Cisco, the networking-equipment maker that is reportedly going to buy social network Tribe.net next week sometime.
I must admit that I share Pete Cashmore’s “WTF” response to this news. Maybe someone at Cisco overheard people talking about Facebook or MySpace and using the term “social networking,” and all they heard was the “networking” part. “Hey, we do all kinds of networking — Ethernet, PBX, optical, you name it,” the Cisco type might have thought. “How hard could social networking be?” Buy a provider like Tribe.net (which probably cost as much as the Cisco branch office in Mobile, Alabama spends on paper clips every year), and away you go. Drop in on Really Big Corp. Ltd., sell them some switches and throw in some of that social-type networking too.
Coming so soon after the announcement of IBM’s big Lotus Connections rollout, in which the giant computer services company mashed up its own del.icio.us-type tool, a blog tool and some other social networking apps, it seems fairly obvious that the Big Iron boys would like be the ones helping companies get on board the social networking train. But is that really the best way to go? I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.
Paying Cisco millions of dollars to put together your wired or wireless network makes sense. They control the hardware, they know the protocols and technology standards, and they know that security is important for a corporate network. But social networks and social networking tools aren’t exactly rocket surgery, if you know what I mean — there aren’t really any complicated tools or standards (other than ethical standards).
What makes a social network function isn’t so much the tools as it is the attitude. You gotta have the “want to.” And that isn’t something you can get out of a box.
Om Malik is similarly skeptical of Cisco’s newfound interest in social networking, and compares the combination to the marriage of Angelie Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton. And Joe Duck makes a similar point to mine: social networking isn’t about technology, it’s about people. My friend Mark Evans is also skeptical of Cisco’s move.