If I've learned one thing from being at Microsoft for almost <gulp> 3 years now </gulp>, it is the fact that Microsoft offers a lot to MBAs and freshly-minted undergrads interested in developing or furthering a career on the Internet. Every day, we rationalize how software and the Web will play together - by talking to customers, partners, startups,other business groups within Microsoft, etc.
So I'm naturally passionate about returning to campus to have open & honest conversations with students about what they are doing, what they see, and so on. This week I'm in Austin talking to MBAs.
This year I have been struck by the intensity & passion with which technically savvy students express their appreciation for Facebook and LinkedIn. Social networking is *the* way that people get to know each other quickly in a campus environment. I guess that's necessary given that business school lasts only 21 months in total -- it is handy to have a resource where you can learn about your classmates quickly without having to ask a lot of questions. In some contexts, that can be a bit creepy.
I think the big implication here is one that has been alluded to in a number of places. Social networks are becoming the way that people can passively share information about themselves. This is a big, big deal that will continue to have broad implications on how we socialize. Let's start with a simple example -- birthdays. It is very difficult to keep up with birthdays. We used to have "birthday books"... or at least my wife used to maintain one... where important birthdays would be written down for use year after year. Now if you expose your birthday on Facebook, all your Facebook friends need to do is login to remember that you're turning 37. Another example is contact information -- think of all the things we do to alert friends to address, phone number, job, or e-mail address changes. Again, if you're exposing your data to friends, they'll get a notice when you make a change in your life. The same situation applies to some degree to LinkedIn.
These are a few early & admittedly simple examples of how Facebook helps us manage our lives. But as Facebook continues to mature, grow, and reach new demographic groups, I suspect that it will help us manage our friendships in more meaningful and productive ways that we can't even imagine today.
But enough of the aside... the students I spoke with talked to me about all the things they think are possible with social networking. I'm not talking about students from the software or internet industries though... I'm referring to students with background in oil & gas, consumer packaged goods, retail, etc... future business leaders who will come and go and make business decisions in middle management and in their personal lives.
Maybe I've become a bit of a zealot, but I'm sold on social networking. The fundamentals are in place for deep changes in how we interact and how our online & offline worlds collide.