It's not a recruiting resource, exactly. It doesn't even have anything to do with jobs, except that it's a way to kill time at a boring one. But the social-networking Web site Friendster provides a sneak preview of what could become the most useful recruiting tool since the search engine.
Google tells you who somebody is, but Friendster tells you who they know. The idea behind the Friendster.com site--which launched its public beta early this year and has not yet started charging--is simple. People sign up for its service, fill out a little form with information about themselves and maybe a picture, and then form links to all of their friends on Friendster.
Everyone who's at least a friend of a friend of a friend of yours becomes part of your "personal network." With more than 3.5 million Friendsters signed up to date, that means that someone with 100 or so friends might have 800,000 people in her network--and would be able to search their self-descriptions to make new friends.
For the moment, that mostly means being able to find out, for instance, what their favorite movies are and whether they're in an "open marriage." But the potential applications for recruiting are obvious, if not actually available on Friendster. Jeff Schwartzman, senior recruiter for CyberScientific, has a Friendster account himself. If there were a similar site specifically designed for scientists to display links to current and former associates, he says, "it'd be a killer tool for somebody like me." It could also be a great way for users to network for career advancement, he notes.
Big money is flowing
The business world is starting to agree with Schwartzman. Monster recently announced a professional networking service. Then there’s the rise of Ryze, a free business networking site, as well as the recent $4.7 million financing of the employer-employee networking site LinkedIn.
One of Friendster’s strengths is that it doesn't actually present itself as a professional resource--or, for that matter, as a dating service, which it sometimes is in practice--unlike earlier, similar sites such as the long-defunct Sixdegrees.com, which was recently bought by a new service, WorldShine.
Most of Friendster’s users, in fact, belong to it just as a way to keep in touch with their friends and see what their social circles' outer rings look like. The connections they list extend beyond their professional ties. That in turn makes it exceptionally useful for users who do want to make new connections of one kind or another: the pool of possibilities is much larger than it would otherwise be.
Friendster's cleverest feature, though, is its "Testimonial" system, which allows users to write "recommendations" of their friends. Potential advantage for recruiters: you can tell a lot from whether a person's testimonials include phrases like "She's the most creative, efficient person I've ever seen in action" or "You know that button you don't like pushed? He'll find it and push it multiple times, just for fun."
Potential disadvantage for recruiters: all testimonials must be approved by the people they're about, so they're hardly confidential. On the other hand, you can also tell a lot from what people let their friends say about them in public.