Monday, 25 January 2010

[Ecademy] Community: Autoconnect meets guanxi - a different perspective

[This is one of the blog posts I posted at Ecademy. I am reposting them here as I probably won't be in Ecademy much longer.]

[Date posted to Ecademy: 14-Jan-2010. Original URL:]

By now, anyone on Ecademy who hasn't been living under a rock has become aware of autoconnect. It's a feature that's being introduced experimentally, allowing its subscribers to make random connexions amongst the Ecademy community. If you've received a request recently that said:
    (name) Was sending invitations to join their network on Ecademy, discovered you were already here and requests that you add them as a contact.
...that was an autoconnect request. If you've received one, you've probably received lots. Brace yourself; it's going to get worse yet.

This is scattergun networking. If you fire enough cartridges at enough trees, chances are you'll hit a bird eventually.

Let's draw a contrast.

I'd like to introduce you, if you haven't already heard of it, to the Chinese concept of guanxi (關係 or 关系 ). Pronounced "GWEN-shee" (approximately), it describes your value, as expressed by the quality of the network of people upon whom you can draw.

Guanxi networking is often misunderstood in the West to be similar to the kind of business networking with which Westerners are familiar. In fact, a guanxi relationship is more personal. It must be maintained actively, or it will wither, and it's not as casual as Western network relationships. Properly managed, a guanxi network connection is for life.

The heart of guanxi is exchanges of favours. If I want to connect with a certain person, I will find out who I know has guanxi with them, and then I'll use my guanxi with that connector in order to make the connexion. Sometimes, there's a whole chain of connexions, and often you end up making further guanxi relationships as you work down the chain to complete the connexion.

Equally, it's expected that if a guanxi friend needs help, you assist without complaint.

When I joined Ecademy, the ethos seemed to me to be similar to guanxi. A business community that was oriented towards mutual help, and long-term personal relationships. In fact, the Blackstar concept seemed about as near to guanxi as I've ever seen in Occidental networking.

Contrast this to autoconnect. Networking by robots - about as far from personal networking as it's possible to get. I've commented here and expanded here about how autoconnect requests are functionally identical to spam. And like spam, there's presently no way of opting out. You get the requests whether or not you want them.

It's also about as far from guanxi, and personal networking, as it gets. Maybe a valuable - guanxi - relationship can arise from autoconnect, but the vast majority of autoconnects won't yield any benefit.

Let's consider that for a moment. You gain thousands of contacts - or, at least, try to - but only a small handful work out. You've put several thousand people to inconvenience for a marginal benefit for a tiny proportion.

The business model is depressingly familiar. "Spamford" Wallace would be proud.

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