We have all heard of social networking, the online phenomenon where people post their photos, likes and dislikes onto Web sites like Friendster.com and LinkedIn.com to connect with people with similar interests. I must say I’ve been a bit resentful about using those: Why do I need to make friends online? I meet plenty of people in the real world – in the bookstore, at parties, etc. In the offline world, at least I know what they look like, whereas, online, it’s a mystery.

That’s why I sat up alertly when I heard about Common.net, a social networking site intended to help people meet in the offline world.

Allow me to explain. Say, you are getting ready to go to a trade show. You log onto Common.net, and download your entire address book onto the site (the contacts will only be accessible to you). Then, you answer questions about the location of your home town, clubs you belong to, former employers, fraternities, etc. The set-up takes 10 minutes.

When you get to the trade show, you make a beeline for a person you know nothing about except for what their name tag says. You both smile at each other, pull out your Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) or cell phones, and log into your own Common.net accounts. Then, you enter each other’s e-mail accounts into the site’s system. Within seconds, you’ll both receive a summary, telling you exactly what you have in common with one another. Perhaps you both know the same person. Perhaps you went to the same high school. Or, maybe, you both love playing tennis.

How about that for a conversation starter? I mean, it can take years for me to find out that someone I know has a similar hobby, or is from my home town.

Granted, for this to work, lots of people have to belong to Common.net (today, it has about 25,000 users). It remains to be seen whether Common.net can pull this off: The site is self-funded and looking for venture capitalists, says CEO Craig Calle.

But I think the main idea – of using social networking for offline networking – is a goldmine. I wouldn’t be surprised if large social networking sites like LinkedIn.com, catering to professionals, pick it up and run with it.

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