There is a growing class of software that allows you to manage your social network online and to use this network to make new contacts. Different implementations of this idea have different focus on why you would want to make new contacts, and we will review some of them over the next days and weeks.
You know the basic dynamics: you get an email from a friend recommending that you should meet one of their friends because you might be able to help each other get ahead in business, friendship, romance…
Social networks are different from both communities and directories. Communities are based on a shared interest; social networks on shared contacts. Directories invite anybody to contact you while social networks typically enforce a friend-of-a-friend recommendation, thereby virtually eliminating spam and providing a context and recommendation for each contact.
That being said, there is obviously some overlap. You typically have contact with people who do the same sort of things as you: that’s how you meet them. These shared behaviors are close to shared interests, but the key difference is that most people have many interests, and it is exactly the social connections that cross interest groups that are the most important connections. (For more on this topic, try Duncan J Watts: Six Degrees [Amazon US or UK] or Malcom Gladwell: The Tipping Point [Amazon US or UK].)
Key players include LinkedIn, Ryze, Friendster, and Tacit. More about these over the next weeks.