Everything Else

Rake in the recommendations

I don’t drive, except perhaps once a year, when I take a ‘great Australian road trip’.

This year an American friend accompanied me to Canberra, Melbourne, along the Great Ocean Road and the Barossa region.

While I’ve been to Canberra several times on business, I’ve never been there as a tourist so, after we checked into our hotel, I found myself at a loss. Where to go? What to eat? I had some vague ideas, but nothing specific. Where could I turn to for answers? Twitter.

Among my 5700 followers on Twitter are a disproportionate number of Australians: that’s the way I want it. If you’re Australian (and not a spammer) and you follow me, I’ll follow you back. Americans and Europeans have to be much more interesting before I’ll follow them back by default. As a result, whether in Canberra or Cairns, I’ll probably be connected to someone who lives there.

So, I popped the question: “Where can we get a good, cheap dinner in Canberra?” Within moments a flood of replies came – from locals and tourists – with several tweets highlighting the virtues of the laksa at the Asian Noodle House. That settled it. We looked up the restaurant on the map and off we went. The laksa was excellent – among the best I’ve had in Australia. It cost us all $12 apiece.

The instant communications that can lead to a great dinner, a great bar, or a great cafe are available to anyone who has invested in building a local social network. The internet transcends distance, but it also makes the local more present.
If you can harvest the local within your social network, you can do almost anything more effectively.

“The internet transcends distance, but it also makes the local more present. If you can harvest the local within your social network, you can do almost anything more effectively”  

By the time we got to the Barossa at the end of our 2000 kilometer drive, we were exhausted. We hadn’t given any thought to which of the many wineries we should visit. Neither of us had been to the Barossa before. So, again, I asked Twitter. Within an hour, the recommendations coalesced around six essential wineries, which we toured the next day. Once again, the recommendations were spot on: each winery was a delight.

Twitter allowed us to harvest local knowledge nearly instantaneously. I simply issued the call and reviewed the responses. It takes energy, effort, and intent to create a social network with such capabilities, but that’s the point: social networks are more than just the place where you hang out with your friends. They’re tools that can be precisely tuned to give you a wide range of abilities you won’t know you have until the moment you need them.

The examples I have given are recreational, but it applies to almost anything: a Ph.D. student who is looking for a library, a parent who is looking for a decent park, a businessperson with time to burn before flying out after a business trip, scouring his or her networks to see who’s available for a quick coffee and catch-up.

In our social networks, we need to push ourselves to connect locally. Local networks will provide help in times of need, whether that need is a dinner recommendation, a glass of wine, or problem-solving.

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