A few months ago, David West, owner of MeadowView Construction in Georgetown, Mass., was invited by a local lumberyard owner to join LinkedIn, an online networking system. He was skeptical but accepted the invitation. "One night I was messing around with it and checked it out. There were so many cool things I could do, I went nuts with it," West says.

West is not unlike the millions of others who have connected on LinkedIn. In a sophisticated version of six degrees of separation, friends and social and business contacts are part of an intricate network where they can ask questions of the crowd, find experts, be part of a conversation, look for jobs, post job listings, and make other connections.

While many people have difficulty cold calling and networking with strangers, LinkedIn starts the introduction a step down the line -- "I have a friend who has a friend" -- so that users feel comfortable getting in touch with people they don't know directly.

"I've met some incredible people. . .interior designers, lighting designers, architects. All people I'd refer business to and get business from," West says. His question about bonus systems and incentives received 20 responses. "My e-mails not only go to the people in my network, but to all the people in their networks," he says.

West also arranges to meet with people who are local. "I met a guy who worked on This Old House and we had lunch and hit it off. He owns a construction consulting company," West says. "I've done that with probably 10 key people in my network."

He suggests creating your own personal invitation rather than using LinkedIn's standard invite to get the best results. You can also download your Outlook address book. LinkedIn tells you how many of those people are in the LinkedIn network. West found that he had 100 people in his own address book who were already connected. He sent them personalized invitations to become members of his network.

But does all this linking increase business? "Yes," West says. "And it's building for the future. I'm now getting invites from people I don't know."

To get int touch with West you can go directly to his LinkedIn page at www.linkedin.com/in/meadowviewconstruction or contact him the old-fashioned way at davewest@mvconstruction.com. Visit his Web site at www.mvconstruction.com/.