Social Networks Fill Niches, Professional and Otherwise

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On Monday, IT Business Edge blogger Mike Vizard wrote about IBM's new social network dedicated to data governance. IBM's hope is that "data governance professionals will do more to advance data quality by collectively addressing issues that every business faces," he said. Mike focused on the network's ability to narrow the divide between business and IT pros as they focus on solving data governance problems together.


I think IBM is on to something with the network idea. Data governance isn't the only enterprise practice that could benefit from offering practitioners a network. Social networking also figures into Blueworks, a business process management community IBM introduced earlier this year. Its three primary features are browser-based modeling capabilities, pre-built content supplied by IBM and other contributors, and an area for more direct collaboration and exchange of ideas. As BPM analyst and Column 2 blogger Sandy Kemsley pointed out, Blueworks' content and community areas could form the foundation for a BPM center of excellence.


While there is value to general professional networks like LinkedIn (it's a great place to recruit job candidates for example), there's a reason folks join the groups that LinkedIn offers. They want to discuss best practices, seek advice, offer suggestions and otherwise compare notes with professionals working in the same field and who are facing the same challenges.


I've received a couple of inquiries from a PR professional promoting dot429.com, which he tells me is "specifically targeted to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) professionals and their straight allies." It features profile pages, updates, messaging, online introductions, articles (many of which, judging by my peek at the site, aren't necessarily about career topics), and a job postings section. The site also hosts monthly live get-togethers in different cities.


He likened it to BlackPlanet.com, which bills itself as "the best website to meet black people, period." The site appears to be for those hoping to make both personal and professional connections.


I'm sure there is some professional value to dot429.com and BlackPlanet.com, especially since I suspect both LBGT and African-American professionals sometimes still encounter racism on the job (a point IT Business Edge blogger Don Tennant made in April.) They may find it helpful to discuss it with others who have dealt with similar problems. Based on my (admittedly cursory) visits to the sites, however, it seems they might be of more interest to advertisers seeking to target certain demographics or to folks looking for a date than to those looking for professional-development opportunities. BlackPlanet.com's home page says the site is for people "looking to promote your music to a black audience or discuss news of the day with other black people or to meet a beautiful black woman or a strong black man."


While there's nothing wrong with that, it might be tough to find somebody who wants to discuss data governance.


Seemingly more career-oriented than dot429.com or BlackPlanet.com but broader in focus than IBM's data governance network is 48Upper, a social network targeted to IT pros that HP launched earlier this summer. I guess it shows there's room for a broad spectrum of niche networks.


I wrote about the proliferation of social networks two years ago, citing Burnt Marshmallows, a camping site more or less ridiculed by a New York Times writer. "Wonder if that site's still around?" I thought as I read my post. Guess what? It is. It has 5,000 members (a number of whom belong to groups targeted to more specific interests, including Camping with Kids, Dogs Allowed and Deep Woods Camping).