The goal is to identify people within the company who have potentially useful contacts elsewhere and could make a personal introduction, say, linking a salesperson with a potential customer, an attorney with a prospective client or a fund-raiser with likely donors.
Success depends on effective use of permission and integration into the existing social network. For example, when a salesperson using Visible Path asks the system for an introduction to a person at Microsoft, she doesn’t find the name of the contact inside the company, or the contact at Microsoft, until after the person who has the contact has given consent.
These tools complement explicit networking tools, like Linked In, Friendster and Ryze, where participants explicitly declare their business and personal relationships.
These approaches represent two ends of a continuum
* contact mining tools infer relationships from email and address book contacts
* social network tools explicitly represent relationships
A third complementary approach is emerging, based on hyperlinked public and semipublic media such as wikis and weblogs. Tools like Technorati and Feedster implicitly identify relationships by following the trail of hyperlinks.
On the one hand, a link relationship is weaker — hyperlinks are one-way, and may indicate a tangential association rather than a direct relationship. On the other hand, the content is public. So you can read the discussion over time, and decide for yourself whether Sam Ruby knows Mark Pilgrim.