Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.

Tribe.net: online communities redux

My friend Chris persuaded me to sign up for tribe.net, an online community/job networking website.


It’s like 1999 all over again, and the web still sucks. Back then, PlanetAll promised to help you manage your contacts so you’d never need to update your address book every again; you just “linked” to someone’s PlanetAll account and any changes to their contact info would propagate to your PlanetAll account. Amazon bought ’em, tried to use them as a vehicle for selling books, and then eventually shut the site down when they couldn’t figure out how to make it profitable.

Then there was good ol’ sixdegrees. That site was designed around the cute concept of “six degrees of separation” between any two people on the globe. You could sign up on the site, but you had to earn enough karma points (or something like that) by getting people to link to you and verify your membership in order to get any value out of the service. I don’t need no stinkin’ website to validate my existence.

Even my employer jumped in the online community game with Yahoo! Clubs. The site combined message boards with photo albums and member lists. I think the most popular section was the Hanson Club; the site was really just a place for 12-year-old girls to hang out and chat about their favorite bands. But after a year or so, folks got tired of having to remember to go back to the site to check for new messages. So we replaced it with Yahoo! Groups, an email-centric service, which is quite popular and still going strong. Mmmm, bop.

All quiet on the Online Community Front for a couple of years.

But now we’ve got the venerable Friendster, with 1.3 million users and a lot of buzz. I’ve seen a demo at the urging of a friend in Seattle, but right now it seems like a dating service in disguise. It claims to be much more than that (“It’s a great way to meet people just to increase your social circle”), but I have my doubts. The site is free now, but they’re going to start charging $8 a month; that’s cheaper than other online dating services, but I lost interested in that scene several years ago.

This Spring, my friend Rachel introduced me to Meetup, an online/offline community site which helps you arrange in-person get-togethers at coffee shops or restaurants. The idea is that people in your geographic vicinity might interested in anything from stamp collecting or Howard Dean, and if only you knew about these other folks, you’d all start a club and become best friends instantaneously. All while drumming up some extra business for Starbucks. Online community meets offline community. Or something like that.

So now tribe.net shows up on the scene. Despite Chris’ urging, I’m pretty hesitant to join. “Isn’t this just Friendster all over again?” I ask. “I’m a married man, you know.”

“No, it’s not a dating service. This site has got a much bigger emphasis on professional networking,” he replies. “You really oughta see for yourself.” So while Ariella was studying for a Greek exam last night, I signed up and took a look around.

The site is still pretty small, but there’s potentially some value. I even found a classmate of mine from BrownCS through the Brown “tribe”. And a friend of a friend of Chris was hunting around for a JPS Commentary on the Torah. But the guy lives in Utah; wouldn’t it be easier for him just to buy it online than for me to ship it to him so he could borrow my copy? I wonder what the value of a networking resource is (especially in the job market) when most of the contacts don’t live in the my area.

Tribe.net does definitely do one thing right. Instead of using a rigid categorization scheme for things like interests or skills, it lets you enter free-form text. The software engineer in me realizes that almost every click on the website results in some full-text query (which has gotta put a burden on whatever search technology they’re using), but the end-user in me likes the fact that I don’t have create my profile based on someone’s preconcieved notion of the universe. You’ll never find choices like Egalitarian Hasidic or Conservadox on a drop-down menu.

If you’re curious, drop me a line and I’ll send you an email invitation to the site. For some reason I can’t get a generic referrer link to post on my website. Hey, no surprise here; the web sucks.