I’m currently a member of LinkedIn, a social networking service for professionals that targets executive-level professionals primarily but is open to anybody. I’m also (in passing) a member of OpenBC — a more internationally focused version of the LinkedIn concept. Between the two, my time is most definitely spent on LinkedIn, primarily because I have no real international connections. I’m also a member of Facebook and MySpace, though I don’t use either of those seriously either.
On the non-social networking side, I’m also a member of eBay. What do these five sites have in common? They all provide tools to network with other people (though eBay is really more about commercial transactions, it is still fundamentally networking). In addition, they also all provide a method to build an online reputation. eBay is the most obvious of these, since it provides its users with the ability to rate a transaction as positive, neutral, or negative – the more positive-rated transactions you have, the better off you are when you attempt to purchase or sell. The second most obvious one is LinkedIn, which, in a way, measures reputation by how many connections you maintain.
But is that really what LinkedIn connections mean? Not necessarily – in fact, in my case, that’s not really true at all. My strategy on LinkedIn is precisely this: connect with as many people as possible when I feel that having that connection would be beneficial to my work and future goals. Along the way, this has provided me with an opportunity to converse with several interesting people and to engage in conversations that were personally enriching. But none of this was based on my reputation – instead, it was based on my interest for their field of work and my desire to ask questions.
So what is an online reputation, really? I’m buidling one right now by typing this, and I will certainly be judged by my past posts, some of which are not always professional (this is a personal blog, after all). My tentative answer is this: your online reputation is definitely an extension of your real-world reputation, but only insofar as people know about your online work. I have a good reputation with a number of people offline who know nothing about my work online and cannot be influenced by it because of that, so the two are separate entities. This is certainly an open question, and one I’m considering as I utilize LinkedIn to grow a network.