A Social Experiment
By Tonya Johnson and Michael Ward
It's a fitting metaphor for our electronic age: a business technology, popularized by kids, based on a concept nearly as old as the human race. It's already affecting your bar. So just what is social networking?
Social networking exists as part of a movement called "Web 2.0." The term is fluid – even its coiners have trouble explaining it – but all Web 2.0 sites are based on one clear concept: collaboration. They use the Web to connect varieties of people for a certain purpose. But where Web 2.0 sites Wikipedia, Flickr, and Del.icio.us use that collaboration mainly to create a product (such as a vast encyclopedia and an advanced categorization system), social networking sites emphasize creating relationships.
Social networks, of course, are far from new, and the Internet has always had the ability to host them. But they began fulfilling their online potential only in 2003, when youth-dominated MySpace was launched. MySpace's popularity (with nearly 75 million members currently) led to other social networking sites, including Facebook (more than 34 million members) and business-oriented LinkedIn.
This mass acceptance of social networking has made it a revelation for lawyers (and other professionals), who have seized the chance to build a global network that is both convenient and free. Attorney Doug Cornelius blogs that eight of the biggest firms in the AmLaw100 have Facebook networks. And a Law.com article reported that 90,000 attorneys have LinkedIn profiles – a membership that would make it the country's third-largest bar.
Lawyers have even branched out to create their own social networks, some for all lawyers, others focused on specific practice areas. (One such network, Legal OnRamp, reports plans to use wikis to allow legal departments to share their knowledge.) The State Bar of Texas recently became the first bar association to launch a social networking site for members, Texas Bar Circle.