Friends And Recommendation Networks

I'm feeling a little reflective this week as my original partner in the publishing business is preparing to move down to Georgia. We first began working together around thirteen years ago, co-authoring a book and publishing an Internet newsletter on technology. By 1996, we'd settled on the model of publishing books both online and on paper, and our Dailey International Publishing business eventually published three titles under the old offset printing and distribution model. By 2000, I was no longer writing off mileage for my weekly visits to his home office, because the business had evolved into a friendship.

The only other face-to-face publishing friendship I have is with Jon Reed, the owner of the POD_Publishers group, who I've also known for a decade. We live in the same town and talk frequently, but probably only meet every other month or so. I'm planning on moving out of state myself come July, so my publishing friendships will depend upon online correspondence.

And that got me thinking about social networking, as opposed to social networking websites. None of my publishing friends were recommended to me by a computer algorithm, I don't have a "Be my friend" button anywhere on the website, and we don't get points anywhere for being connected with each other. I was greatly amused the story about a politician who lost some tens of thousands of "friends" due to changing pages on the MySpace social networking site. We're all free to use English any way we like, I'm partial to making up words from time to time myself, but pairing the word "friend" with numbers that could best be expressed in scientific notation strikes me as pretty over the top.

I'm a pill when it comes to social networking. I've signed up for a couple sites over the years when friends have sent me invitations, but I've never visited a second time. As an outsider, I "get" how social networking sites are useful for marketing, but I don't "get" why people join. I'm told it's a great way to keep in touch with real world friends, but it seems to me more like a way to keep them at a safe distance. I've also heard it's a great way to find people with similar interests and outlooks, but I can get that in the bathroom mirror.

The most valuable component of my publishing friendships, in the purely professional sense, is the push-back. Friends write me with their observations and ideas, I write back with my counter-observations and claim that the ideas originated with me in an earlier correspondence:-) I've noticed with a couple of my publishing penpals that we tend to push each other to extreme positions as a thread continues. If I start with, "I'm thinking of publishing a short-run of a new edition on offset," and hear back, "You might want to make your name a little bigger on the cover," after two days of exchanges, it ends up, "I'm going to print 100,000 copies and include a DVD" and "You would be drawn and quartered for your cover designs in most civilized countries!" Oddly enough, it's a constructive process.

So, heres to old friends, good memories and the collegial sharing of ideas and data that makes it nearly impossible to figure out who gave away the store.

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