Dave Taylor:
I’m a strong proponent of virtual professional networks like LinkedIn but I’d like to talk a bit about why it’s still important to remember that to be plugged in to your industry and market, you need to also attend workshops, seminars and conferences.

But here’s my tip for you: conferences aren’t about the sessions, the talks, or the demos, and it doesn’t really matter if you attend the vendor exhibition. Conferences are all about the breaks, the dinners, the bar at the conference hotel after the day’s done.

Why? Because the so-called educational aspect of a conference is something you can often receive by simply buying a book or a training DVD. That’s not enough to get me to travel to another city. To me, the most important aspect of attending a conference is the opportunity to meet people that I wouldn’t have otherwise ever met. It’s the random, the chaotic, the unexpected, unplanned discovery.

That’s where sites like LinkedIn are, unto themselves, less valuable: Even if the site allowed me to get a “random user profile of the day” or, perhaps a bit more constrained, “random second level connector of the day”, it’s still nowhere near as valuable as sitting at a table, talking about something relevant to your business space and having someone across the table be inspired or, even better, have me get inspired.This isn’t a criticism of LinkedIn, however, because all virtual professional networking tools suffer from the same problem, and I’m convinced that they can’t solve this problem.

More here.