Saturday, November 07, 2009

No matter how good your junk mail filters are, when you open your email there are probably still dating come-ons, fraudulent diploma offers and the odd Nigerian scam letter offering you millions for helping to spirit away a few bucks languishing in some far off place. But by volume, those pale in comparison to the pharmaceutical and other product offers, which total more than 72% of all the unrequested solicitations. In fact, according to a report released by Microsoft, spam accounts for more than 97% of all the email traffic in the world.

That means that if you're like most, you spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning out your inbox. Eventually you get it down to the stuff you want to read. There you'll find a few personal notes, some business correspondence, confirmation of things you bought, and most likely some friend requests from others seeking to connect with you on some social network.

Social networks have emerged as the killer ap that drives everyone to the web. True, none have figured out how to make money at it, and so it's an open question as to how long any of them will stay alive. But just as Amazon lost buckets of money for years before it became profitable... and continued to grow and attract admirers along the way... so too do Facebook and My Space and LinkedIn continue to attract more and more people.

The whole idea behind these sites is to bring order out of the chaos of your many relationships, be it for the betterment of your social or business life. (That, and having a place for your old college roommate to post pictures you'd hope were lost to history and would never see the light of day, like the one of you in bell bottoms and Dorothy Hamill hair.) But keeping up with them is a chore in and of itself, one that can take all your waking moments if you're not careful.

Fortunately almost all of sites allow you to set up alerts to be sent to your email address if something notable pops up. If someone you know posts a new picture or makes a new connection or changes their job title, you get a bulletin letting you know that something has changed in your universe. But it can also be spam-esque to get a million little reminders of relatively inconsequential updates every day. And so many of these services amalgamate the changes that are relevant to you in a once-a-week rundown. Now when I see a LinkedIn update on a Monday morning, I can quickly catch up on the all the goings-on with those with whom I am connected. It's quick and comprehensive, and easy to follow-up should there be a need.

But while I have a reasonable number of contacts on some of these services, not so others. I think I just got tired of signing up, not seeing any real benefits coming from being part of yet one more network with mostly the same people. And it stands to reason that if the universe of contacts on a given service is small, then the updates delivered will be rather narrow in scope.

And so it is with a network called Plaxo. Nothing against the service itself, but I signed up because a client requested it, and then promptly forgot about it. I connected with one other associate named Bob through it, and then just got tired of responding to friend requests, and so pretty much ignored them. However, as a member, I still get weekly "Pulse" updates, which tell me all about what's happening with all the other people with whom I'm connected through the network.

But that's only Bob.

And so once a week, I find out everything I could possibly want to know about what Bob's been up to. And since Plaxo aggregates comments from a number of different services, I get the full range of his activities, some business, some personal, some recreational. On Monday: "Bob will be attending the Design'09 Conference in Washington." On Tuesday: "Bob is now connected to Barry." On Wednesday: "Bob is writing an article for InDesign magazine's new edition." On Thursday: "Bob can't wait for baseball to end and hockey to start." On Friday: "Not a very productive day. Time for wine."

It's all Bob, all the time. Thankfully, I like Bob, I really do. He's a nice guy, easy to work with and always smiles. I'm glad he's doing well. And he's a faithful reader of this space, so I guess turnabout is merely fair play. That being said, as much as I want to know what's happening to those whose company I keep, I trust he'll forgive me if I just delete my next set of updates. After all, you can keep up with the Bobs just so much.


Marc Wollin of Bedford never updates any of his pages. He does, however, update this space weekly, and it appears in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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