The Web is a wonderful, terrible, thing. I started working with the world wide web back in the 1990s, we used a text-only browser (anyone remember Mosiac, Gopher and Usenet?). Of course, it only worked on Unix systems, and Windows was just a bad way to do word processing.
Even then, e-mail wasn't used very often. I remember my boss writing memos (or rather dictating them to his secretary to type up), and distributing copies on everyone's desk. As e-mail moved more into the mainstream, communication improved. Today, with the proliferation of Web 2.0, which finally put the user in charge of the web, we are now in a world of connectedness via online social networks (<-- click that link for a definition - it's pretty good).
What does this have to do with leadership? Lots.
Your "network" is the single most important aspect of your career. But it's so hard to keep in touch with everyone. That guy who you used to go to school with (yeah, the one who was such a geek), is now the CEO of a high-flying Internet company. Maybe he was looking for someone with your skills. Maybe he still is. It's not too late to connect back with him.
Keith Ferrazzi is the author of the best seller Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. He describes his technique that for him at least, "quickly forges the kind of emotional connection through which trust, and lots of business, can soon follow." Keeping relationships going is difficult. Heck, it's hard even keeping track of where someone works that you don't see often.
LinkedIn is an online network of more than 30 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 150 industries. LinkedIn’s simple philosophy is "Relationships Matter." And they do. For those relics like me, it's been a godsend because I have kept in contact with some folks I worked with thirty years ago. That would not have been possible even ten years ago, only because we have each moved on to several other companies, changed our addresses, phone numbers, hairstyles (and lack thereof), and e-mail addresses many times over. With a social networking tool like LinkedIn, that tracking is done for me. It will never replace real face time with folks in your network, but it can help track them down.
Of course there are hundreds of other social networking sites. Facebook, with 120 million active users, is still the most popular, followed by MySpace. Others such as Twitter, Windows Live Spaces, Yahoo 360, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, etc. all have their places for socializing, sharing photos and ideas as well. And once you get your initial network established, the six degrees of separation theory kicks in pretty remarkably.
No, I don't work for LinkedIn or Facebook - but maybe you know someone who knows someone who does. And who knows, maybe they're hiring.