We’ve been members of nearly every major social networking site that’s come around. One thing we’ve discovered is that social networking is a lot like dating. When you first come across a new networking site it can be very, very exciting but once the bloom is off the flower, so to speak, interest tends to wane. The stats for the big social networking sites seem to bear this out: after the initial rush of interest and time spent exploring, usage seems to die off.
So what’s wrong with social networking? Well, as The Long Tail author and Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson has explained, part of the problem is that social networking should not be a destination on the web but a feature of good websites. Flickr and YouTube, for instance, have from their beginnings used social networking in this way—turning users of other services into a social network. Especially in its early months, YouTube felt very much like a social networking community.
This leads us to something we’re been toying with for nearly a year here at DealBreaker. Our commenters and emailers are already something of a community, with many regular participants in our comments section adopting regular and instantly recognizable handles or pseudonyms such as Bulging Bracket, Random Banker, Anal_lyst, BSD and Zbignew. We’d like to take this further, allowing permanent profiles for commenters, where readers can track discussions, get in touch with each other and keep conversations going even after certain discussions have moved off the main page. Our creation of the “Recent Comments” page was the beginning of this effort but it is a mere seed for what we hope will eventually grow into a much more interesting social network, user-generated part of our pages.
[More on social networking DealBreaker-style after the jump.]
One impetus for moving toward social networking here is the lack of a usable social network for financial professionals. Linkedin seems heavily geared toward tech, and lacks the fun of a Facebook. Myspace and Facebook are somewhat disreputable, although financial professional participation is growing, especially on Facebook. Why not create Facebook for finance at DealBreaker, we asked.
All sorts of networking possibilities jump out. For instance, stories could include a button that would instantly show readers how they might be linked to the players, or how this story connects to another they’ve already discussed in comments. It would be terrific to click on a Bear Stearns story and discover who in your network works or worked for Bear Stearns.
One thing that seems to be clear is that any features of DealBreaker built along these lines would have to preserve the option for anonymity. Perhaps users could have dual profiles, public and anonymous, so they could connect with colleagues under real names but make comments and track discussions under pseudonyms.
We love the community that has grown up around DealBreaker. We were tempted to say “that we’ve built at DealBreaker” but that’s only true in the sense that by “we” we mean to include our readers, tipsters and commenters. The editors never expected our commenters to become a community, we never really set out to create a community based site, but we’re ecstatic that this is what we’re becoming.
So we’re moving ahead with plans to grow the social network features of our site, and we’d love to hear more from you about what you’d like to see in this respect. Feel free, of course, to leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A parting thought. A great many of our commenters have a quite reasonable fear of publicly writing on the site. Wall Street is notoriously ill-humored about unauthorized comments. This is one reason we make such a big deal of promising to keep comments and tips anonymous for those who don’t want to read their names among the pixels of DealBreaker. But it sometimes becomes confusing with so many people writing under the same name—Anonymous. We’d like to gently suggest that each of you chose a pseudonym and try to stick with it. It’s a small step but one that we think will greatly improve the comments section.
And now back to our regularly scheduled counter-programming. Next up: Bess Levin on Fox Business.
Update: Speaking of community, Bess raises an important point: where is BSD? We haven’t had a comment from BSD since August. Actually, the last one we could find was August 18th. Did BSD get credit crunched?