Dark Side of AJAXy, All-Seeing LinkedIn

    July 9, 2007

Sorry bout the overwrought headline – thought if I started with a ZDNet vibe you might be more likely to read. :)

In the recent past here I’ve defended LinkedIn against critics. As the service grows, certainly it seems that many users must agree with me because I’m getting more requests to Link In than ever. Most people (OK, all) are using their real names; the profiles don’t contain louche photos; no commentary on Kate and Becks and Posh and Pete, or whoever, either. It’s a bit sad that I can’t waste my time on Facebook or worse, but honestly, maybe that’s for the best.

On a not-unrelated note, there’s been a resurgence of talk by Very Important Bloggers considering declaring email bankruptcy due to the overload of the channel. On this topic, I think it completely misses the point that "very short emails" will improve the situation. When I’m dealing with real workflow, real business, or real re-acquaintance type communications, long is fine! It’s the volume of nuisance mails and mails of unknown intent that bog me down. I won’t be declaring bankruptcy but for many of those, let’s just say they’ll be marked Past Due for many months to come. In that case, don’t email. Please call. Or ask someone I really know well to get in touch. Which brings us to LinkedIn.

There are, in spite of my attempts at optimism, some clear problems with LinkedIn.

1. You give people a "permission" channel, and they’ll find a way to spam it. Make it searchable and categories, they can target their spam. Recruiters and other questionable interrupters have begun using this service to bother people. A variation on the trick is to have the bothering come from someone at the VP level at a major company. That looks like potential business development when all it is is a search for referrals for potential hires for qualified senior managerial positions. (And a great way to save the fee you’d otherwise pay the recruiting firm, but now I think you’re spamming me directly instead of blaming the evil headhunters.)

2. Corporate espionage. Who you’ve just added to your list can tip off competitors about your business development efforts, private deals, and secret strategies. A friend had partnership talks with several large online properties. Her direct competitor became aware of this right away simply by spying on her LinkedIn profile. Maybe worse: sometimes you’re not in talks with anybody, or up to anything in particular, but because of the timing of your new contacts being added, people jump to erroneous conclusions.

All fretting aside, many people have spoken about doing a "cull" of their LinkedIn list and eliminating people they don’t seem to recognize or know well. You do so at the risk of offending people, of course, but think of the upside: now the relationships you do have become more meaningful. I think probably the worst reason not to do a cull would be that it looks like you have more friends or admirers if you leave more contacts on your list (a la Orkut: you have 353 "stars" and 448 "hearts," and many Brazilian pals!). So maybe I’ll set aside an arbitrary number I hope to pare back to: 42.

The positives of LinkedIn are still there. You get current profiles, current email addresses, and lots more besides. It keeps a part of your life out of email. But like email, the channel surely needs to be managed.

As for linking into people at your own company… I think that completely misses the point. Why do people do this? Go for lunch, or at least coffee. If your company is really big, doesn’t requesting to link in to some distant superior just emphasize your lowly status? Better to contact by conventional means, or to otherwise make yourself conspicuous (through achievement, etc.).

Is anyone else culling their LinkedIn list of relative unknowns? Drop me a line.