One of the biggest lessons in networking is having a firm handshake. Not one that crushes your partner’s hand, but one that shows, “I’m confident and I care”.

Figuring out how a social utility could embody that kind of interaction has been one of the goals since I joined Anthillz as a consultant back in July.

We’ve gone through a number of iterations, both with the functionality and the marketing of Anthillz. I’m really happy with the latest iteration, as it feels closest to what I’ve been describing to people for a while in terms of potential.

The problem we identified is that most of the “online social networking” being done in business is weak handshakes. Even LinkedIn, while it has testimonials, puts the focus on building huge numbers of connections (hence the 500+ badge). We’re not going to take down LinkedIn, but we certainly can help focus its users on what’s really important.

Large networks are a fun competition, but anyone can enter and win. Strong networks have a higher barriar to entry. Think about it. How many of the hundreds of connections on your LinkedIn network can you really recommend? Not many. And that’s the problem we’re looking to start solving.

The new Anthillz adds a barrier to entry for networking, much like “real social networking”. You know. The offline kind that most of the business force sucks at.

Real social networking takes work, and much more than a business card exchange to be effective in the long term. Just because you gave me your card doesn’t mean I think you’re the best person for the job. In Anthillz, adding someone to your “trusted colleague” network has a barrier to entry: you have to write something about that person. And in order for the connection to be completed, they need to write something back. The system does what it can to enforce a balanced social economy. Over time, it’d be nice to pull back the reins, but I think we need to break some bad social networking habits first.

Take a look at my profile if you’re looking for an example.

Sure, people can write bullshit reviews, but that’s where we can learn from lessons of other review-powered systems and apply them here to make the good stuff bubble to the top. I’m SUPER pumped to see how that begins to evolve as more people start filling the site with testimonials for their trusted colleagues.

I’m excited to see the new Anthillz live for a number of reasons. One, I think this is the strongest the product has been in the life cycle that I’ve been around for, and I believe that the team has done a tremendous job working together towards this goal.

Second, this is a great example of how social networks don’t have to generate a ton of noise in order to appear effective. In fact, the contrary is more true in my opinion.

Finally, there’s been a great deal of discussion about openness and portability in the roadmap for future versions of Anthillz’s technology. We’ve already got XFN (rel=me and rel=colleague) baked in, and as such, are participating in the Google social graph API. Future additions will hopefully include things like hCard and hReview. OpenID? I’d love to, but we’ve already given our audience a barriar to entry in this version by design, and I don’t think they need another one quite yet. I’m confident that in time, understanding and ubiquity of OpenID concepts will get to a point where it makes sense for us to support it. Hopefully sooner than later.

I’m really interested to see how the newest version of the system begins to take hold, and how people use it. People’s actual use will be the driving factor in next iterations, so help the product grow by using it and sharing your thoughts.