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Come Together

Oct. 1, 2007
By now your children have indoctrinated you into MySpace and YouTube. These are networks of “friends” you can build upon.

by Paul Feuerstein, DMD

By now your children have indoctrinated you into MySpace and YouTube. These are networks of “friends” you can build upon. Some enterprising people have even made new businesses and careers from these sites. But lately I have been asked to join or update my information in Plaxo and LinkedIn. The messages seem like simple e-mails from friends and acquaintances.

But what do they want? In addition, what in the world are Xing, eCademy, Ryze, Facebook, iLike, Hot or Not, and (Fluff) Friends? Have fun searching Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia on these networks. According to Cnet News, by the time you read this, Plaxo will launch Pulse. What is all of this?

First, let’s look at LinkedIn. In my town, the Chamber of Commerce has “business exchange nights.” These are small social functions in which local businessmen can network and exchange cards and contacts. So why limit this to a town of 30,000 when I can network with the world using my computer? LinkedIn is just that. It is more business than social, although those contacts can be made. Friendster is more of a social network, and is one of the new Internet businesses. It has received more than $13 million in venture capital. Remember, where there are lots of people, there are advertising opportunities.

Plaxo "brain trust"
Click here to enlarge image

Plaxo, on the other hand, acts as an online contact manager. Your people profiles are online and can be updated by members. These contacts can then coordinate with your computer address book. By the way, the photo on the left is the brain trust of Plaxo. It looks like my son’s ninth grade computer lab. These are the future millionaires of America. What a country!

Now there are more places to make your personal information public. Even though these places require you to be a member to view content, it is as easy as completing an online form. Although initially attacked in the media as spammers, Plaxo and the others have put some “acceptable” privacy parameters in place. Plaxo states on its Web site that “At Plaxo, we believe that privacy is more than just a legal document - it is the foundation on which we built our company. Privacy is the confidentiality you expect when sharing important personal information.”

I guess if you are willing to issue your information, you are not as concerned as some. These groups are shooting for about 10 million members. Note that MySpace is reporting 192 million members. There are about 100 of these networks, many of which have more than two million users. Not all are free. This includes classmates.com, which boasts more than 40 million members.

I did a little networking as a followup to my ongoing quest for information on new digital impression systems. I have spent much time speaking to the principals at Cadent, Brontes, and Densys. Fellow colleague Jeff Dalin recently published a terrific interview on continuing education online (see The Dalin Exchange in the July issue of DE®).

I have been intrigued, though, that 3M ESPE plunked down a large amount of money for Brontes last year. So I arranged an interview with 3M’s Division Vice President Jeff Lavers. Since he is an exec, I was prepared for a formal, stodgy talk, and brought with me a list of specific questions. But instead of a strict Q and A, I ended up having a casual conversation with a down-to-earth person who knows his company and this industry, and has advanced through the ranks to head up his area. Jeff started as a sales rep with Unitek. He then worked at a variety of divisions of 3M but returned to answer the call to dentistry. He explained that, throughout the company, learning goes both ways so no product stands still. There are constant meetings with employees, as well as conversations with customers, asking how things can be improved. We see this in many of the restorative products, and now can watch the evolution of digital impressions. Since Jeff is also involved with the company’s LAVA system, he is committed to bringing together these groups - as well as 3M medical and an array of other company units - to brainstorm as this new digital product comes to the marketplace. His background in orthodontics also creates some interesting scenarios. Although this will take time, he does not want to rush to the marketplace with a partially complete product. 3M ESPE will launch only when the company is absolutely ready.

So have fun looking through the contact Web sites discussed in this column. I welcome your feedback.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. He is a mainstay at technology sessions, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and he is an ADA seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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