Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Building Network Pittsburgh

There are a number of successful social networking sites in existence. Why build another one for the Burgh Diaspora? The biggest social network sites employ a transactional business model: revenue is a function of the number of people in the network. Software automates this process allowing companies such as MySpace an unlimited scale of reach. But the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School points out the finite possibilities of any network:

By expanding, "you can dilute what the community stands for," says Wharton marketing professor David Bell. "Once that happens, people leave. It's a key tension between growth and dilution of the brand."

Regarding that observation, might even the subset of the Burgh Diaspora be too large? My experience says otherwise. The common interest in Pittsburgh often proves sufficient for generating enough trust to form a meaningful social network. In fact, I would argue that the experience of moving away from Pittsburgh lends itself to social, political and economic relationships that look to be impossible for Pittsburgh region.

There is too much emphasis on technological infrastructure and not enough on managing a social network. Successful communities employ a tacit business model, focusing on the much more complex human side of the virtual equation. Pittsburgh and other regions have invested heavily in creating a substantial web presence, but they have done little to foster a sense of community. The nightmare scenario is spending millions of dollars on a website that either draws little traffic or fails to serve any purpose:

The San Diego Workforce Partnership spent $2.6 million on an online program for job hunters that took four years to develop and is little more than a compilation of Web links that so far has attracted 199 users.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from the various public online initiatives to the growth of Facebook. These mistakes are paving the way for the development of the Burgh Diaspora Network.

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