Thankfully I was wrong. It turned out I hadn’t been recognised by my photo in NMA, but the one on, the networking site which last week announced its intention to reach 10,000 active members by next year.

So this is the state of business in the new millennium. Meeting people who we have encountered on Web sites. As bland and somewhat geekish as that sounds, it’s going to become the norm, especially in the Internet business (assuming it isn’t already).

Sure, we’re all used to meeting people after an email introduction or a posting on a newsgroup. What’s different is that social and business networks are now forming after encounters through Web sites that have been specially designed to network people with each other.

Like most, the idea is an old one. Back in the pre-Internet boom of the mid-1990s, a Web site called appeared claiming to link users with everyone in the world via six other people. The name was inspired by the play Six Degrees of Separation.

In this experimental phase of the Internet, the user numbers were relatively low and, of course, most of the users were American. But the technology was pretty sophisticated for its time. You could see who was on the site at that moment (quite an achievement in 1996) and even do something called instant messaging. Through various algorithms you could see who was linked to you and who they, in turn, were linked to. no longer exists, but the ideas it gave birth to spread. Certainly, we all know about Instant Messaging now.

The latest ‘poster child’ of networking sites is, a US West Coast start-up which uses clever tools to allow you to ‘surf’ the people in your network. Lately the network in the UK has enhanced it’s own networking facilities and hopes to build its membership to the point of critical mass, where the whole thing becomes self-perpetuating with no marketing needed.

What’s clear about the trend towards networking tools online is that they’re meeting real needs. There’s the simple but crucial one of allowing freelancers and sole traders to build their network of contacts, and thus business. But they also reflect the wider social trend of the future towards individuals marketing themselves.

It’s a world where, to borrow a phrase, there’s no such thing as company loyalty. A world where business is constantly changing, careers constantly shifting and individuals increasingly work for more than one company at once. Being able to tap into an online network where you can maintain your own constant presence whatever job you do, and can hook into the network of others, is a highly valuable proposition. And it’s a proposition for the future.

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