On networking events: broadcasting information or building relationships?

Networking events are everywhere and all the time these days. Especially in metropolitan centres like London. They come in all shapes and sizes, too. Yesterday I attended two, almost back to back, which showed very different expectations and architectures — if that’s not too pompous a word — for what makes good networking, and how to facilitate it.

I spent yesterday afternoon at the mashup* demo. This is the first time I’ve been to a business event in a night club, complete with low-level ultraviolet lighting (I couldn’t actually see the keys on my keyboard, though any white bits of my clothing were glowing violet).
We were then treated to 16 presentations in just over an hour from mash-up and mobile companies explaining their wares. No questions — these were reserved for the networking afterwards — just short and (mostly) sharp explanations and mini-demos.
My notes consist of transcriptions of short soundbites, but there’s no time to digest ideas at this pace, and after the first eight or so presentations, the experience was more mush than mash-up. I guess the idea was for everyone to have a chance at catching your attention, with the idea that we would follow-up with the handful that were successful.
I’m interested in the overall trends emerging in the mash-up area, however. What I picked up was some services concentrating on person-centric data, and some on location-specific data, and, yes, some doing a mash-up of both.
In the first category were 15secondTV who will take your face and then graft it onto a clip from a blockbuster film or a sporting highlight, with the intention that you will then want to forward this to all your friends. The runaway success of Simpsonize Me was cited as an example of how widely and rapidly such campaigns can spread virally.
Perhaps more prosaically, two companies were offering variations on the single-online-identity theme. Bondaii talk in terms of “pervasive identity bonding”, which sounds painful at first, but involves ‘bonding’ between portable devices (mobile phones, PDAs etc) to authenticate that you are who you are, and have paid whatever subscriptions you say you have, to give you quick and easy access to services. Does this open up risks of identity theft becoming as easy as mobile theft? Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to ask. They gave the example of car locking as one application, though I understand that, when BMW introduced fingerprint authentication to some of their locks, thieves resorted to cutting off fingers to go about their business — the lesson being that we need to think carefully about what we embed our authentication in.
Another Bondaii application was exchange of contact details and other personal data with individuals, and that was also covered by the people from Meecard, “a snippet of youness online” (I love imagining the brainstorming meetings where they come up with these straplines). It’s more about how you present yourself publicly online, and draws together feeds and data from your various social networks, blogs, twitter feeds and so on, into the “holistic identity” that captures how you want to be seen.
Three presentations centred around the scenario where you’re out and about in the city and want some location-specific, trusted and possibly taste-specific suggestions for suppliers (e.g. florists) or venues (e.g. bars, gigs). welovelocal.com is a local search engine that will give you driving directions from where you are or other downloads to your mobile phone. It includes a recommender system based on a profile it builds of your previous searches and reviews. Rummble was described as “Time Out written by your friends”, suggesting that we don’t want objective reviews of bars and events; we want subjective reviews that match our perspective. They have developed a User-Generated Content “trust engine” based on their proprietary algorithm to help provide this. Tipped also offer a mobile community for sharing tips on local businesses. Their selling point seems to be that the service is optimised for mobile (though everyone seemed to be claiming this).
Other companies on show were offering solutions to enable you to ‘roll your own’ corporate applications (Serena), mobile communities (Mobestar) or social websites (Kwiqq).
That resumé still misses several of the presentations, but that is all I was able to weave into my reflections about trends. In retrospect, quite a lot was broadcast in a reasonably short space of time, and I learnt a fair amount about the state of play, even if it felt like a meal made entirely of crisps (that’s ‘chips’ in US English). I’m afraid I didn’t avail myself of the further demonstrations and networking. A combination of mental indigestion and the fact that the mirrorball and music swirled into action (I was still recovering from a heavy night) put me off, and I retired to a quiet coffee shop to gird myself for the next event…
…Which couldn’t have been more different in its trappings and architecture. This was the London launch of the RSA Fellows Media and Creative Industries Special Interest Group, held at the Fine Art Society.
Unlike the night club, the venue was above ground level, reeking of institutional history (though, at 130 years, the Fine Art Society is only half the age of the RSA). It was also devoid of mirrorballs, though there was a rotating Barbara Hepworth sculpture, which could be quite hazardous if you were trying to squeeze past it in the throng while holding more than one glass of champagne. It was the first event I’ve been to in a long time where registration was by cheque and stamped-and-self-addressed envelope.
Those were the only irritations, however. The presentations were limited to two, each of three minutes of less, which consisted simply of a welcome, thanks to the relevant parties for facilities, and brief exhortations about the RSA being committed to engaging its fellows more actively. Then back to the champagne, and a series of conversations with artists, designers, consultants, media people (‘old’ and ‘new’) each of which found their own length and reach within a remarkably fluid circulation of people. After a couple of hours, there was an offer to continue in the pub across the road, but two nights in a row was too much for me.
I left with six new business cards and probably more energy than I arrived with. Nothing so specific or tangible that I could pass it on meaningfully in a blog, but at the same time I felt like my web of relationships had gained an extra thread or two. And, unlike the mashup* event, it wasn’t a condition of my entry that I blog about the people presenting (ah, now he tells us…!).

One thought on “On networking events: broadcasting information or building relationships?

  1. Thanks David for the clear writeup. In case anyone would like to better understand how business people will be able to ‘roll their own’ corporate application, please either contact the Serena website (serena.com) or send me an email. I would be happy to provide you with more details. The way to look at our technology is to combine the best practices from SOA, Web 2.0, and BPM into a single easy to use solution.

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