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I was recently asked how online networking tools like Spoke have contributed to my efforts to meet people within the game industry. I signed up for Spoke, Linked-In, Friendster, and couple others a few months ago. But none of them were much help for meeting people in the game industry.

Whats Missing?

First, I havent met many people in the game industry that choose to spend a lot of time on networking–it sorta happens during the course of working in the industry but the industry is otherwise a bit insulated. It seems that game makers have less of a need for active networking than the practitioners of other entertainment industries. If you are actor, for example, attention is your currency. If you are game programmer or an animator, networking is still important, but an active networking hobby isnt as central to a successful career. There are people who are exceptions to the rule, and I am operating off very little data so far, but thats the initial look of things to me. Most of the people I talk to tell me they got into the industry through a friend; yet when I asked my friend Auren (who knows half the people in San Francisco) he had trouble naming any game contacts off the top of his head. The online networking tools didnt do much better–just not that many game people in there.

Second, I suspect that people dont feel comfortable giving these online networks all of their personal information. I, for one, just dont feel comfortable telling MCI who all my friends are. ;) Or anyone else for that matter. I dont trust them to use my information exclusively in a manner I would want the information used, I dont trust their internally or externally oriented security controls, and I like to be in the driver seat when it comes to something as personal as who I know.

A Networking Tool That a Game Designer Could Love, Maybe

So, a couple weeks ago I deleted all my info and closed all my accounts to be reconsidered some other day. Perhaps once a clear winner in the online networking game has emerged, though I suspect these things will go away or turn into CRM tools sold to commercial interests. My gut tells me that theres something wrong with all of these models, but who knows? Maybe they will evolve into something interesting, its worth keeping an eye on.

After sitting down to think through why these systems didnt work, I decided to think through how a system could work that I and my friends would use. And I came up with an idea that I think in a little closer to how people already do things…but with the benefit of a technology boost: a P2P app that integrates with Outlook and allows you to share your contacts with your friends. It would work something like this:

  1. You and your friends install the app.
  2. You and your friends exchange secure public keys so each of you can securely accept requests from each other.
  3. You decide you want to meet someone that works at EA. You run a query. It sends the request to your friends. Their copy of the app looks to see if they know anyone that meets you criteria. If one is found, you get a response that says your friend knows someone and you should get in touch with your friend for further info. If one isnt found, your request is forwarded to their friends.

Control over who you trust with what amounts of information, how many levels away you will respond to and how, etc. is controlled by each individual participant. The data is always under their complete control, it never resides anywhere else. Essentially you don’t have to change how you network at all–the tool simply facilitates the same interaction you would do without its help. No giving away the crown jewels before you get to play and no dependence on some third party to network with your friends. Heck, the thing could be a plug-in that sits on top of an IM client.

That’s how I would do it. Who knows, maybe I’ll get around to building it sometime. ;) Huminity is the closest to this concept that I’ve seen. There is probably money to be made in the centralized contact sharing business, but I’m placing my $5 bet that the P2P, decentralized model wins the most users over the next 5 years. It may even turn out to be the better money maker.

Updated on October 6th, 2013

Some of the links were broken. I replaced them with working links to pages with the same or similar content as before.