Today I was invited by someone I know, Judy Gombita, to join Melcrum's new "Communicators' Network". Needing a brief mental break from something rather intense that I was working on, I decided to check it out, especially after having heard Neville Hobson talk about this upcoming site on mutiple FIR episodes. I will candidly admit to a bit of "new social networking site fatigue" these days and for that reason had not yet even joined the MyRagan social networking site established by Ragan Communications and the topic of much recent discussion within the PR section of the blogosphere. It's not that I don't think sites like these aren't good ideas... despite my writing about "Walled Gardens" of social networking, I do see value in separate sites for different communities. It's just that with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter as well as my own blogs and all my various IM clients, I am personally already pretty darn networked (and yes, I have a MySpace page, too, but I don't use it really) and I'm not really looking for more ways to connect to people.
In any event, I needed a brief break so I decided to try it out. The site was originally announced back in early May, and had some further details announced later as it entered beta testing, but appears to only be really available today for others to try it out.
The initial account creation process was very straightforward and had an easy "wizard" kind of feel to it. The end result was a "profile page" (note the customized URL - and also note that I haven't filled out all the fields so some are blank) that, well, looked a lot like the profile pages on most of the other social networking sites. In looking around, the site looks like it could potentially be quite useful for communicators... if it builds the requisite mass of people involved.
Overall, definitely an interesting site to explore further.
Now, I do realize that the site was only made publicly available today, and that there will be the inevitable startup issues. I do appreciate the work involved with launching a site like this, and really only had a few nits to pick:
1. Difficult to find your contacts - if you click on the image above-right, you'll get a larger version of the image that shows the top menu bar. What you don't see anywhere is "Contacts" and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how I got to my list of contacts until I eventually figured out that I had to go to "My Home" and see the contacts there. If you look at any of the other social networking sites, though, you'll see that typically there is a "My Contacts" (LinkedIn), "Address Book"(Xing) or "Friends"(Facebook) link in the top nav bar that gets you quickly to your list of contacts. Now, maybe I missed this, but I couldn't find it on the site.
2. No way to personalize contact request messages - Once I figured out where my Contacts were, I naturally wanted to add someone like, oh, Neville. So I went to his page, clicked "Add as Contact" and then was asked to confirm that I did want to add him. I did so and then received the message that "Your contact is pending". Outside of the grammatical issue that I would think this should be "Your contact request is pending", the larger issue to me is that there is no way to personalize that contact request. Now obviously I know Neville from FIR, but there may be other people to whom I want to sent a request to add them as a contact who don't know me. I would like to explain to them why I would like to add them as a friend. Most all the other major social networking sites and IM services let you add this kind of personalized messages.
3. Only one IM listing allowed - Speaking of IM services, in your profile you are only allowed to show one IM service (or at least, I couldn't see how to show more than one). That's great but (with the walled gardens of IM) most of us are on several services and so it does little good to show only one if the person looking primarily uses another.
4. The "My Blogs" area only shows blog entries written there - Let's face it, anyone who has seen the nav bar on the top of any of my blogs knows this... I don't need anywhere else to blog! I think it's excellent that Melcrum provides a platform for blogging because I know there are a great number of communicators out there who haven't yet started blogging and this may give them an easy and painless way to do so. I am definitely not one of those folks, though. For me, I just want to import the feed from my appropriate blog into the site and have it show up there for people who find me through that site. I can import a feed from an external blog, but it only so far shows up on my "blog" page internally - at least that I could see.
Now, obviously, this all may change as the Melcrum folks work on the site and improve it as it moves out of beta usage into a wider public usage. In my initial inquiries to date, they were very responsive to points I raised.
I ran out of time to really explore further (my break was just that... a brief break) but I'll keep checking it out to see how it evolves. I think the real question for both this site and the MyRagan site is whether or not they can really provide enough value to communicators for them to spend some of their precious time inside of those sites.
Time will tell, and it's all an interesting experiment in social networking... what works best? building smaller sections within larger communities/sites (like Facebook, LinkedIn)? or building separate focused communities/sites? My fatigued self who is already in too many sites thinks it may be the former, but I'm certainly open to the possibility that it may be the latter. Anyway, kudos to the Melcrum team for bringing out what looks to be a strong contender.