One of the hallmarks of the free software movement and, in fact, the very thing that makes the movement successful are the many acts of collaboration donated by people scattered throughout the globe. The variety of services and products that get developed in this spirit are amazing and a true testament to human creativity and community spirit. We need to celebrate the spirit of people who make a commitment to participate in these types of structures. It is that commitment that sustains the whole “open" model, a model which is changing the world and offering opportunities for more people to participate effectively in the new global network. This greater concept of community is recognized by “Buddhists" as the Sanga and by the African word Ubuntu, which to paraphrase is: “I am because we are."
One of those interesting manifestations of community spirit is the My LinkedIn Power Forum run by Vincent Wright who has set up a group for LinkedIn members that fulfills some of the activities one would have thought LinkedIn itself should be doing; but isn't.
If you have yet to discover LinkedIn and you're business or social life depends on meeting new people, you are missing out. LinkedIn has over 9 million subscribers from 130 different industries who use LinkedIn to contact each other for business connections. It's kind of like those business clubs the previous generation may have belonged to; but is 100,000 times bigger and is way cooler!
I have used LinkedIn for the last year (my profile ) and have been fortunate enough to gain some interesting connections and several contracts through the process.
But LinkedIn doesn't do it all and that's why the LinkedIn Power Forum was born about two years ago. Vincent started the forum “primarily to help friends within my network - on and off Linkedin - get a better understanding how to access the power resident in LinkedIn" So his motivation wasn't financial, he didn't work for LinkedIn; but choose to use his skills in personal motivation to use free software (Yahoo groups) to help others.
The MLPF is an open group for LinkedIn members to hold ongoing discussions concerning LinkedIn. Issues whether frustrations, questions or successes are all on the table. It's also a place for LinkedIn members to address each other directly and sometimes more easily than through Linkedin to make connections.
While many products and services are developed because the software or service is cool or useful, many contribute because by doing so they become part of a group and community. For Vincent this has been doubly true "Undoubtedly, the most satisfying thing I'd received from My Linkedin Power Forum is the relationships. I firmly believe some of them will last for years and years and years. Interestingly, I go to know some people better whom I'd known before I started My Linkedin Power Forum. Since I've posted hundreds upon hundreds of messages over the past 2 years, friends got a chance to understand some of my beliefs about networking, business, and even life in general. I'm happy about that aspect of MLPF."
So while it cost nothing financially to set up the MLPF it has cost Vincent a major time commitment. "If I told you how much time I actually put in, I'm sure that someone would try to get me arrested! :-) Actually, it's quite integrated into my work day but, conservatively, my work probably covered 10-15 hours per day, overall. At the beginning of 2007, I've committed to just 2 hours per day until February 9th." However this may be coming to an end soon as Vincent is looking to move on from moderating the forum and recently asked his members if he should “give it to LinkedIn." The response from some 80% of respondents was “No". I believe many people think Vincent should be able to sell it to LinkedIn or somehow profit from the effort.
But selling or profiting financially from MLPF wasn't Vincent's motivation when he started the forum, he has gained some financial benefit, but more than that he's “met fantastic men and women from around the world and learned and learned and learned a tremendous amount about things I might not otherwise have experienced."
And what about LinkedIn, did they approach Vincent about selling or assuming the forum? “No Linkedin hasn't encouraged me, at all," he says. And that seems to me to be one of the down sides here, in that the power forum concept is a useful service to make LinkedIn more effective and yet they are not seeing it.
So the real question here is what happens when the driver of these free services and products decides to “get off the bus" so to speak? When the initiator has achieved what they needed to achieve, if they can't sell a free service..what happens?
For Vincent....was the time and effort worth it? "From a personal perspective, yes. From a business perspective, no. Though I am nicely positioned to take advantage of certain business opportunities which seem to be surfacing at this time. If/when that happens then my answer to your question will be "Yes! Yes!" :-)
What will happen to the forum? We'll have to wait and see if someone else wishes to manage it; but it will certainly miss it's greatest motivator, unless of course we migrate over to a new service. He should be easy enough to find..just check LinkedIn.