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September 2014 Issue

Online Social Networking for the Global Maritime Industry
Eirik Fosse

The maritime shipping industry is the world’s most international industry, serving more than 90 percent of global trade, yet a global network that connects all the players is missing.

Shipping is a highly fragmented industry with a high number of small companies, relating to one another in a truly international network, regardless of company size. Today, Google is widely used within the industry to find companies and services.

Google has certainly demonstrated the power of free text search. However, there exist many examples where free text search is not necessarily the best choice. If, for example, a shipyard in China is in need of a hybrid gearbox technology and it is unknown who can deliver it, the shipyard will most likely turn to Google. The problem is that a Google search usually gives a result set that numbers in the millions, involving a mix of relevant and irrelevant candidates, and since most people don’t go beyond the first page, a simple search can quickly become a lengthy process of multiple searches.

The challenge with free text search is that it yields a partial result set. All relevant candidates are not necessarily found because the search criteria might not fit the description used by the relevant candidates. Another challenge of free text search is noise—unrelated candidates that match the search criteria are also shown.

In other industries, Google does not play such a central role in connecting industry players and creating visibility. Take for example the real-estate/housing industry; not many would use Google to search for available outlets in that market. Most people would use a specialized service, for example, www.zillow.com, for their area of interest, enabling them to search structurally based on industry terminology like location, price range, size, distance to public transportation, etc. The key difference between sites like Zillow and a Google free text search is that the industry-specific site yields a complete search result that includes all relevant candidates and no noise.

Similarly, on Shippingcluster one can search using the industry’s own terminology to find all relevant companies and services. Returning to the example introduced earlier, a shipyard can use Shippingcluster to search for “hybrid gearbox” or “two-speed drives” and find all relevant companies that provide such products, such as Kumera, a company whose profile page can be viewed at: www.shipping cluster.com/company/kumera.

The only thing maritime companies need to do to be visible to the industry online is to create a free company profile on Shippingcluster and tag their company with relevant industry keywords. The process takes less than five minutes. Company profiles on Shippingcluster work as extensions to existing company websites and make companies and related services more visible to the industry community.

In addition to Google as a typical method for finding companies and services, LinkedIn has become the number one tool for online CVs. However among the hundreds of millions of users on LinkedIn, only a fraction is relevant to shipping; the rest is noise. Being a cross-industry network, LinkedIn does not support shipping-specific terminology nor any shipping industry structure. People and competence text searches on LinkedIn are free, with the same pros and cons as for company searches on Google. On Shippingcluster, maritime professionals can create a free personal profile similar to company profiles on LinkedIn, tag their maritime profile with relevant industry keywords and be visible to the greater industry community. People in shipping are geographically diverse and need stronger ties to each other to share much needed information and communicate relevant topics. The maritime world is getting more complicated and social media technologies represent new and exciting opportunities. Shipping has always been very network-driven, based on a rolodex of contacts. For the next generation of professionals, this rolodex is in social media.

Shippingcluster is taking the concept of social networks further. By focusing on an industry vertical, Shippingcluster is creating an efficient and clutter-free industry network online. In the near future, we expect to see all industries having dedicated social, professional networks. The one-size-fits-all concept is being challenged by specialized networks tailored to industry-specific needs, without all the unrelated noise. Industry networks are large enough in terms of network members to maintain the needed activity level and focused enough to ensure everything is relevant. Industry players are represented by their profiles, and interaction between players is part of the business processes fostered by such industry networks.

Shippingcluster is a free service. We start with the people and company profiles to enable a global industry network online. As the network evolves, Shippingcluster will continue to add new industry apps, as well as third-party premium services, based on members’ wishes. By providing an online social network to connect the global industry, Shippingcluster provides a professional arena for everyone to use, enabling new maritime services that would be impossible without such an industry network.

Shippingcluster was launched in May, and already close to 1,000 maritime professionals and 250 maritime companies from more than 30 countries have joined the industry network. Shippingcluster is by invitation only, to keep the spammers out. To join, one needs to be invited by existing members, or go to www.shippingcluster.com/contact and ask to be invited. This online social network can create and enhance industry relationships in the Internet era.

Eirik Fosse is the CEO and co-founder of Shippingcluster. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree in technology management from NTNU Norway/University of Singapore. Prior to Shippingcluster, Fosse was part of the management group at ShipNet. He also co-founded the IT companies Circle Innovation and Genus Software.


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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.