In many ways similar to LinkedIn (and therefore to the original Six Degrees) in scope and intent, Spoke Software tackles the problem of maintaining the software’s representation of your relationships by providing a download that integrates with your e-mail client. The software the automatically identifies your relationships and their strength based on your e-mail traffic.
This approach certainly overcomes the objection to the explicit update requirements of LinkedIn, though the strength is also the weakness: is your e-mail traffic really a faithful representation of your social network, or are there people with whom you have strong links but rarely exchange e-mails (perhaps your family) or weak relationships but many e-mails (e.g. a supplier where you are having problems with the quality of their goods or services)?
E-mail clients supported are (at the time of writing):
- Microsoft Outlook
- Microsoft Outlook Express
- Lotus Notes
- Web mail: Hotmail and Yahoo! mail
- Any POP3 e-mail system
(Note: the last two options are not presented at the time of sign-up but can be selected later.)
Operating system support for the downloads is limited to Microsoft Windows NT, 2000, and XP.
For people on different platforms or using different e-mail systems, and for those who do not want to use the automated facility, you can of course enter your contacts manually.
The implicit approach that Spoke employs pretty much guarantees them the largest network of business contacts. The answer from companies that favor explicit (i.e. manual) maintenance of your network would probably be that it is not the number of connections that matter, but the strength and quality of the relationships that they represent, something that is not in general directly related to the volume and frequency of e-mail traffic.
In a corporate setting, especially for a sales force, e-mail traffic may very well be a good predictor of the current strength of the relationship, and Spoke Software has an Enterprise version of their software targeted squarely at this segment. This is not a hosted solution but software you install on your company premises.
Time will tell which approach is most successful: explicit or tacit. We would be very interested in hearing our readers’ experiences with either approach.