Social Networking and Thin Clients

(This article was previously published on as “Feeling a Bit Gooey Lately? You May be Suffering from Thin Contacts”)

You’ve probably heard the term “thin client.” Simply put, a thin client is a computer or workstation with limited functionality, designed to be dependent on a network server. In a thin-client network, most of the “heavy lifting,” including storage, computation, and even the operating system itself, is provided by the server, while the thin client provides a graphical user interface (GUI) that enables the user to interact with the system. Thin client solutions are very popular because they provide low-cost workstations, require little maintenance, and are naturally theft resistant (because they have little value on their own). On the other hand, thin clients have no value to the user, independent of their network function.

To a casual observer, thin clients look exactly like their “thick-” or “fat-” client counterparts. If you were to pass them in a call center or a library or a manufacturing environment, you’d probably never know that they are “thin.”

So what?

An understanding of the advantages and limitations of thin client technology may provide a useful framework for evaluating customer relationships, in the age of social media.

In the race to build expansive business networks, many of us appear to be sacrificing depth for reach. Ostensibly, our new (but shallow) relationships spread our social tentacles well beyond a range considered more-than-respectable, only five years ago. Because of our new and powerful social networks, 300 Facebook friends, or “500+” LinkedIn contacts, or 2000 Twitter followers, all stand ready to receive and to act upon our next comment – or so we think. But while these “thin contacts” carry the outward trappings of real contacts, they are far less vested in our success than our “old school” contacts were. What’s more, they frequently lack the power or authority to act with consequence on our behalf.

If our intent is merely to use our contacts to gain access to more powerful decision makers, then thin contacts are certainly sufficient. But detached from the network, these contacts have little, if any, value.

And if our friendship with these contacts is based primarily on their utility to reach a more powerful ally, then what does that say about us?

A healthier relationship – one in which two independent parties stand fully capable of functioning on their own and hold mutual respect for the other’s individual value – seems more appropriate, more valuable, and more dignified, even in an age of social networks.

Here’s to thick contacts.