These networking collaboration tools -- including LinkedIn, Ryze, and OpenBC are very useful tools. Lately, I've been building a Novell Alumni group on LinkedIn -- what an amazing way to reconnect with others -- and make new connections. Through LinkedIn, I've been contacted by people from around the world, something that truely amazes me.
Yet there is another part of me that is disappointed with these tools because they are just so static. I go to the site to see what has changed. I do some networking activities. Then I leave. I come back, to see what has changed or do some more. This just isn't good enough.
What if, instead, on my desktop or menu bar was a small item that provided me with realtime network status. Not "internet network" status but my network status. Perhaps this menu bar item would include a pulldown list of my primary contacts who are currently online right now and available for an IM. Maybe the status box would tell me how many times today and in the last week my profile has been viewed -- and in what context. Perhaps I could see an alert if pending requests of one type or another require my action-- an alert I can just click on to do the necessary care and feeding of my network. Maybe they could keep my contact address book up to date on my Palm, Outlook, or Apple Address book by, say, merging the feature set of a LinkedIn with the utility of a Plaxo and making the whole shooting match platform independent. My desktop monitor could keep it up to date for me.
And it could do much more, too, if you started to think of integrating networking activities into your desktop. You could ask it to create items your "todo" list with tasks important to your network members (like recognizing birthdays or reciprocating a luncheon appointment.) It could tell you when a job has been posted that is an excellent match for your profile and your network contacts. Or perhaps it could be smart enough to tell you when there are new people visible to your network that you should be connecting with at a higher level. Perhaps they are fellow corporate or academic alumni. Perhaps they are in your immediate geography or industry. Maybe they are people that you had indicated you wanted to be "looking out for". Maybe they fit a profile that you said you are targeting.
In short, these networking collaboration tools should be dynamic -- and they should be actively a part of your day. Doing stuff that matters for you right in front of you. If we do that, then maybe networking won't be something that people think of only when they are between jobs. Instead, maybe they will recognize that networking is the what you do to get things done.