There is the social network as in Facebook and Twitter.
And there is the social network as in a bunch of tables pushed together at a down-home joint at 24th and Leavenworth for the First Monday of the Month Breakfast of Champions.
The first social network tells you to come to the 11-Worth Cafe on this humid morning in August to, well, network. The second social network puts you across the table from people you might not otherwise meet.
Both networks are vital. But it's the second one that offers the experience of human beings actually talking at an actual place.
The purpose of this new breakfast club is to connect — connect Omaha's creative types, entrepreneurs and professionals; connect Omaha's makers and doers; connect people like Rod the Suit from the Mayor's Office with earringed Caleb from Silicon Prairie News.
The club has no rules or agenda or fees or formalities. You just show up.
This could be the anti-chamber-of-commerce meet-up, it's so relaxed. And yet the Breakfast of Champions draws chamber folks and professionals in more traditional jobs as well as people like Tres, the rave deejay/artist who has opened a coffeehouse in Council Bluffs.
I take a seat at a quickly filling main table.
To my left is Josh the Grain Exporter. Josh Germer, 28, works for Scoular Co. Josh is in slacks and a blue oxford telling me about shipping grain to Japan and Hong Kong.
To my right is Corey Spitzer, a 32-year-old software engineer who custom-builds apps and Web products. His year-old, two-man shop is called Riff Labs. Corey wears jeans and sneakers.
“You write a lot,” Corey says as he watches me taking notes.
I don't always know what I'm going to use, I reply.
“That's what networking is,” Corey says.
You meet a lot of people, talk about who you know and what you do, and from that primal soup, something — a business connection, a friendship — might come.
Across from us sits John Sieler, about the only one in the room wearing a blazer. Pinned to his lapel is a gold state of Nebraska engraved with the words “Board of Education.” John, 68, runs a marketing firm. He is a conservative Republican who, truth be told, was a little nervous about coming.
John will eventually shed the blazer, roll up his shirt sleeves and look comfortable sharing a table with Megan Hunt, who runs the online women's wear store Hello Holiday.
Megan tells me that she likes this breakfast club because there is no bull, a word I have shortened for this family newspaper. “I'm a swearer,” she says, which is backed up by the single expletive on her necklace.
Here's Brian, who works for the ad firm the New Blk and produces TEDx Omaha.
Here's Chris, a teacher who has launched a nonprofit that takes Omaha high-schoolers on life-changing trips.
Here's a photographer, an NP Dodge Realtor, a painter.
How did they find out about the breakfast club?
Says Josh the Grain Exporter: “Somewhere online. I think it was Twitter.”
Says John the board of ed Guy: “On Facebook.”
Says just about everyone else: “Jeff Slobotski.”
“He's a super-connector,” says Grant Mussman, a State Farm agent, using Malcolm Gladwell's term for people who have more than 100 people in their social networks.
Jeff has 4,347 Facebook friends and 11,563 Twitter followers. He launched a successful online news site called Silicon Prairie News and organizes creative-entrepreneurial think-fests across the Midwest each spring. The local event, Big Omaha, draws hundreds.
Forbes magazine named Jeff, 35, an up-and-comer.
Jeff is one of the nicest guys you'll meet. He talks really fast, is pretty crazy about Omaha and has some messianic calling to link everyone.
Jeff uses his digital social network to grow his human network.
“You can't develop an authentic relationship with someone just through Facebook or just through Twitter,” Jeff says. “At the end of the day, I'm a firm believer in the enormous amount of power when you're face to face.”
He wanted a low-maintenance way to harness Omaha's talent. A friend suggested breakfast. Jeff figured the 11-Worth was close enough to downtown, big enough to absorb 40 to 50 people and laid-back enough not to sweat how many would show up.
He posted a Facebook invite late one Friday for the following Monday, figuring maybe he'd get 10 or so people. Forty came. Jeff gave the meet-up a name and a regular gig: First Mondays of the Month. Come as early as 7:30 a.m. Leave by 10 a.m.
July's meeting drew about 70 people. Last Monday, some 50 people came, including Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a 55-year-old political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. UNO is building a community engagement center, and the professor liked what he saw here: energy, enthusiasm, connections.
Today's college students need social networks to help them in an uncertain job future, he said. They need to see how important casual meet-ups like these are. And colleges, he said, need to do a better job of tapping into social networks.
“This is where we need to be headed,” he tells me.
So for all our technological advances, the latest advance is a plate of eggs at a cafe that predates the Internet?
I sip my piping hot coffee. I pay my $3.26 eggs-and-toast tab.