Today’s New York Times tackles the question whether people will pay to get friends. The article missed a couple important points about social networks beyond the typical sales, dating, or job lead. Social networks also determine product purchases, such as a book or DVD, and can enable a secondary market for exchange of such goods on a sale or loan basis. Some large companies like Microsoft have intranets and mailing lists that cover topics similar to Tribe.net‘s tribes or Orkut‘s communities. There are also internal book recommendations and the sale of second-hand goods. Unsolicited e-mail is a hot topic and social networks provide an easy to obtain safe sender affiliation. If you take the determination of relationship strength used by Spoke and combine it with a hosted service such as Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, or Google’s rumored offering you have a new spam filter customized to each user. I already receive unsolicited messages on Orkut advertising various things, but these messages are usually sent to a broad list instead of friend-of-a-friend. The thought that Match.com and Monster will integrate features into their offering and win the social networking came seems to ignore the “not overly trying” aspect that made Friendster a success. Friendster grew because a member of a group of friends joined and invited all of his or her friend so they were not in cyberspace isolation. No one had to admit they wanted something more in love, or a new job, they came along and performed in front of a comfortable audience: established friends. Social networking will excel when these informal networks are established and there is an opportunity to branch out and explore different interests you may have. It may be legal advice, love, lust, or a new baseball team, but users will be more comfortable establishing an identity and expanding it within their own comfort levels and controlling the publicity of their actions.