My first "really powerful" experience with online social networks happened about a year ago. Darby was working on a semester report for one of her 7th grade classes. At the time she was becoming interested in computer graphics. We both wanted to find someone interesting to talk about a carrier in computer graphics. It dawned on me that maybe this was something I could use linkedin for.
I had never used Linkedin for anything useful up until that point. So, wanting to help Darby get somebody really interesting, I punched in "Pixar" into Linkedin to see if I could get to someone there. Several people popped up, but the really interesting person was Sanjay Bakshi. Sanjay was listed as a Technical Director (and Amateur Hostage Negotiator) in linked in. And my connection to him was through an old friend Ed Millard I worked with at NASA. Ed is one of those "spooky smart" programmers that liked the really hard problems, never bought a car (only rented), and made me realize that good software engineers are just "born with it". After Ed and I parted ways he went on to do a lot of work porting Maya (a rendering package) to Linux. Somewhere in all this he met Sanjay. Ed made an email introduction and Sanjay took a hour out of one day to do a conference call with Darby and me. He and answered all the questions we could think of, happily. Darby was interested, and I we elated. One question we asked Sanjay was what movie he was working on. He told us he could not say, but one of the big challenges was all the "fur" that was involved in the rendering process. I know next to nothing about any of this, but I do know rendering hair is very difficult.
Last weekend Lura, Darby, Marlo and I went to see Ratatouille, the newest Pixar movie.
It was excellent! And the fir rendering was amazing. After the movie I sat and waited for the credits and sure enough, there was Sanjay listed as Groom Supervisor. I don't know what that is but I can guess and all I can say is job well done! The dry fur looked real, the wet fir looked good. Pixar pushes the envelope on this stuff and this movie not only looked good, it was good!
The cool thing about this experience is that it only could have happened based on the network of people I have met. Lijit is designed to do the same thing, but rather than having to connect through a phone call, image I could look for answers to questions through the eyes of someone in my network. In the case of Sanjay what if I could find all the great rendering software he has found and bookmarked and commented on through his career. No it doesn't replace the phone call, but it's very valuable and nearing impossible to do in todays web.