Two days ago, the Oxford University Press announced that the word of the year for 2009 is UNFRIEND.
While I totally support the notion of keeping your friend list current by periodically shoveling out your stable of contacts, the fact that this represents a significant concept for 2009 is a little disheartening. This is the age of online community, social networking, joining, contributing, and linking, and the word of the year is "unfriend?"
For 2010 I'd like us all to think about how to turn this to the positive. As we continue to unfriend the contacts who don't give back, whose friend requests we accepted because we felt awkward declining, who we'd never pick up the phone and call, or who we wouldn't want to chat with in the grocery store, let's focus more sharply on filling out our networks with people we admire, those who have the potential of helping us get better at what we do.
As a personal example, I have built my Flickr contact base this way. The majority of my contacts aren't meatspace friends and family, but photographers whose work I admire. By using Flickr's search ranking, I find stellar photographs - the kind of work I wish I was doing - and then make those photographers my contacts. This subscribes me to their photostream, so that I see new work as they produce it, and I can comment on that work, ask questions, and build the relationship. The beautiful thing about it is that most of the people I've met this way are truly happy to share their knowledge and techniques, which helps me to improve. As I get better, I'm posting higher-quality photos and passing on my own techniques which on occasion have inspired others. (I don't currently have a web tool for doing this in my workplace, but we plan to implement it next year.)
I want the word of 2010 to be NEXWORK - a word that describes my contact list not just as "the people I know" or "the people with whom I've worked" but a network of experts - "the people I admire, each of whom has a unique and valuable perspective that can challenge and improve me." Our networks can be so much more powerful than an aggregate of activity from a collection of meformers. What can you offer your network today? And what can they offer you?