Social networking is finding its place in the electronics design community. But is it a fun exercise, or something with commercial value?
Engineers have always discussed their work with colleagues, usually by the coffee machine. But the internet and the growth in social networking sites has extended this in a dramatic way.
The result is a number of global communities of designers sharing ideas.
Then there is the thriving open source software community, where groups of developers share source code.
There is evidence that social networking sites such as Facebook are changing the way we communicate on all levels. For example, Vodafone says that 11 times more wireless traffic is being generated by community chatting than by person-to-person calls.
This is impacting the electronics design community in a big way. Online design communities can now have many thousands of users.
Then there was that strange experiment last year when Intel and Asus invited PC users to contribute ideas for the design of future PCs to a website set up by the two companies.
I haven't heard whether that project has resulted in the adoption of user design ideas shared over the web. I would be surprised if it did.
The reason companies like Intel and Asus exist is that they have spent much time and money creating their own design teams which they believe are the best in their fields of expertise.
As a result, the best designers and their ideas are valued and guarded by employers.
So when engineers grow up in the new social networking culture, where ideas are shared freely, they are doing one of two things:
They are either sharing ideas which may be interesting, but which are not of any real value, or crucial to the design project they are working on.
Or the social networkers are giving away the "crown jewels" behind their next commercial design project.
I suspect it is the former.