Linked In just doesn’t get it

by Mathew on December 5, 2006 · 32 comments

I’ve talked with several friends about LinkedIn since the Business 2.0 puff piece profile hit the Web — calling the service “MySpace for Grownups” — and the reaction to the company ranges from puzzled indifference to outright revulsion. Like me, many people seem to have signed up because it seemed like a good thing to do at the time, but have gotten very little out of it except contact requests from people we would much rather not hear from.

Is that just a few anti-social people, or a sign of a flawed business model? I would argue it’s the latter. Yes, it’s true that LinkedIn is making money, primarily by charging people to send emails to contacts they don’t know (in other words, to send something that might be considered spam). But the Business 2.0 headline inadvertently points out what I think is the main problem: it isn’t really MySpace at all. In other words, it’s a so-called “social network” that isn’t very social, and I would argue that’s a fatal flaw.


Seamus McCauley puts his finger on it in a recent post at Virtual Economics:

Here’s the problem with LinkedIn – it doesn’t do anything. You sign up, you find some colleagues, you link to them and then…nothing.

Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration says that what LinkedIn is doing is “buying marginal profitability at the expense of scale” (thanks to Seamus for the link). As he points out, the service restricts what you can do — even within your own profile — to such a degree that it makes it virtually impossible to connect with people in any other way but the one or two authorized methods.

MySpace and Facebook and Flickr are popular because they make it easy to connect, share photos, send emails or messages, tag things, search, etc. (yes, you need approval to add someone as a friend on MySpace or Facebook, but you don’t have to pay). LinkedIn does none of those things. In fact, the only thing it does is make it easy for people to spam you with contact requests. Unless it finds a way to expand into a real social network, it is doomed.

Jerry Bowles has some thoughts on his Enterprise Web 2.0 blog, and says that the Business 2.0 article reads like “a wedding announcement written by the bride’s mother.” Good one, Jerry. And Seamus has posted an update to his previous post with some more thoughts about LinkedIn and how it needs to “let go.” And Chuqui is one of those who finds great value in what the network does.

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  • CT

    Found this post via technorati?

    Very interesting. Do you share similar thoughts on Ryze?

  • Duane Brown

    I know this feeling, all to well. I signed up and now nothing. I did get a job offer at one point doing gaming PR in LA and a few spam letters, but otherwise everything else was potential people wanting to connect with me that I didn’t know. I keep on saying I’m going to delete my account, but for some reason I can’t or won’t.

  • dave mcclure

    in my opinion, neither you or Sheamus [sic] get it.

    i use LinkedIn regularly, more than 2-3x a week. i’m not a recruiter and i don’t pay for access (although many folks do & value it highly).

    i personally have over 500 connections on LinkedIn, and use it quite often to help make connections for jobs, introductions, business deals, etc. it’s an incredibly valuable tool, and there’s no doubt it works for the business professional networking audience.

    whatever your opinion, there is certainly no doubt that a) the company is profitable, b) growth continues to trend upward. while you may not like their business model, many other millions of users beg to differ.


    - dave mcclure

  • Mathew Ingram

    Fair enough, Dave (and thanks for pointing out the typo in Seamus’s name). I’m glad you get a lot of use out of LinkedIn. I think it is still lacking a whole lot of social elements that would make it more valuable to more people — I’m not saying it has to become like MySpace, or link to everyone’s favourite hip-hop videos or whatever. I just find it way too restrictive. Your mileage obviously varies.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Randy Charles Morin

    Mathew, I think the point is that LinkedIn is NOT MySpace for grown ups. They aren’t trying to do the same things that Facebook or Flickr are doing. LinkedIn is solely about professional connections and nothing more. If they added the missing elements you want, then they lose their niche.

  • Mathew Ingram

    I suppose you might be right, Randy — but then that just makes the Business 2.0 headline look even stupider.

  • Ian Delaney

    You might look at for a ‘MySpace for Grown-Ups’. I believe it’s similar to Ryze, in that it’s got ‘proper’ social networking. Tends to attract home workers and agencies. I’ve found it quite useful if I need to contact someone in a particular sector, as a journalist.

  • engtech

    I liked linkedin except for two things:

    - results were searchable via API from other sites
    (IE: Internet Address Book lets someone find your information on myspace, flickr, linkedin, etc —

    - recruiters phoning me by looking up my company phone number and then looking up my name instead of trying to contact me through linkedin.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Good points, Engtech.

  • Sulemaan

    Six on one side, half a dozen on the other.

    LinkedIn has flaws. My biggest beef is that people can see your contacts but you can’t see theirs. No reciprocity. And if you try to block them – you block all your contacts from visibility. Not good.

    Having said that, like offline networking you are only going to get out what you put in. Judging by the aforementioned comments, those who use it heavily get a lot from it. Recreational users (sounds like a narcotic) get less out of it.

    Great tool. No question it can be better. Will I continue to use it? Absolutely.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for the comment, Sulemaan. It does seem to be one of those things that polarizes people — they either love it or hate it. I know dozens of people who refuse to respond to any request from LinkedIn and see it as nothing but a source of irritation, and there seem to be others who live by it.

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  • dave mcclure

    sulemaan: making your LinkedIn network visible to others is a selectable setting. by default, i believe it’s not exposed. however, you can choose to set it viewable by others. many folks do, as do i. so reciprocity varies, but isn’t necessarily unequal.

    i agree with your statement that you get out of it what you put into it, however if you have one or two well-connected folks in your network, the value increases quite dramatically. initial steps to make it useful is probably a) invite or add 10-20 people in your network to participate, and b) if possible, try to ensure 3-4 of them are already well-connected.


    - dave mcclure

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  • Mario Sundar

    I was a little surprised to hear you haven’t benefited much from LinkedIn, Matt.

    As an avid professional networker, I’ve been able to put LinkedIn to good use for strengthening my business ties, connecting to the right people, finding great jobs, winning new businesses (in my earlier role in Biz Dev), fostering relationships built via blogging, etc….and all this through a free account! So, I think it’s unfair to generalize that people have “gotten very little out of it”.

    I think by just looking at LinkedIn’s mantra “Your professional relationships are key to your professional success”, we can safely deduce that it’s not primarily intended to be a MySpace clone. Rather it provides what MySpace cannot… access to a much more influential demographic. I think it’s wrong for you to conclude that the business model is flawed based on what you assume to be a puff piece/profile?!

    My take on LinkedIn is this — let’s not ask what LinkedIn has done for us, but rather how have we actively leveraged the connective power of LinkedIn? Growing to 8.5 million professional users is no mean feat and each user has the opportunity to leverage their six degrees of separation — a great way to stay ahead of your peers & up-connect.

    As for growth, I believe LinkedIn has done a phenomenal job of becoming the largest business networking site and definitely has an edge vis-a-vis competitors in this space (such as Ryze, Ecademy, Xing, etc…).

    BTW, I’m just curious to know what was the initial reason you joined LinkedIn?

  • Mathew Ingram

    I’m prepared to admit that LinkedIn wors for some people, Mario — like Umair Haque and Seamus and others, I just think it’s too restrictive and controlled, and for me that reduces its usefulness. But then, I’m not looking for a job, and I find my blog and other tools far better to network with. As for why I joined, I had many friends who use it who basically hammered on me until I caved in :-)

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Uberveritas

    This was interesting to me because I think I disagree on just about every point. My experience with LinkedIn has been completely different. I don’t want to discredit the thought you’ve put into your evaluation, but I think perhaps you are not “getting” the site.

    LinkedIn is not every other site. And one should take care in evaluating sites like LinkedIn that build off of a Network Effect. Not every site is intended to be a social networking site. Based on the critieria, the condemnation would likely be accurate. But I suggest that the premise in inaccurate.

    Either way, its nice to see other evaluations. I, for one, have found the site to be completely useful. If for no other reason, I’ve been able to again touch base with former colleagues who have moved on to other ventures, and I’ll be able to continue to do so in the future.

  • Sebastien

    I personally find LinkedIn very useful but it’s really a question of critical mass of contacts. I found that once I reached 200+ contacts (I now have 500+), it became much more useful. I can now reach more than 2M people through my network, which means I can reach anyone in any tech-oriented company when I need to.

  • engtech

    That’s a very good point. I’m not a linkedin power user, but it is very useful for keeping track of old co-workers who I would otherwise lose contact with.

    That’s pretty much my only use for it. :)

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  • Eric Berlin

    I think your point about restrictiveness is key, Mathew. Friendster got swept aside by MySpace (in part) because the latter allowed the online hordes to truly run the asylum. Friendster’s early policies to not allow profiles dedicated to inanimate objects or obviously false representations (Britney Spears, President Bush, etc.) hurt it, and the crowd migrated to where the vibe was less stuffy.

    So I’m much more interested in sites like Jobster right now, which are trying to put a friendly face on business-related social interaction.

  • Mathew Ingram

    I agree, Eric. If a system is too restrictive, it will not survive. Whether LinkedIn qualifies as too restrictive remains to be seen I guess.

  • Uberveritas

    I’m enjoying this discussion, but I still can’t help but think that some pertinent aspects of the site are not being considerd.

    First, I don’t think its accurate to evaluate LinkedIn as a strictly social networking site. Therefore, it is not necessary for the site to live up to expectations created by evaulating social networking sites like MySpace.

    Second, I believe that long term viability of social and networking sites will favor those with both social and economic aspects to their existence.

    Third, sites that are currently popular due not necessarily equate to a long-term standard. Consider that MySpace is almost purely social and largely used by a very young population. This particularly segment of society is probably most susceptible to fads. Also, the population will eventually mature in age. Translation: the crowd will very easily either stop using the site or move to the next popular thing. This isn’t to say that MySpace is doomed since they make continue to build long-term viability.

    In summary, I think that we might come up with some better or more accurate conclusions about LinkedIn if we ensure that we are using accurate premises and standards of evaluation to being with.

  • Eric Berlin

    You bring up a very good point Uberveritas — social networking is very far from a zero sum game these days. Some form of social networking experience will likely filter into multiple aspects of the average online user in the near term, and already it’s common for people to maintain multiple profiles at multiple social networking-oriented sites.

  • Jan

    I agree with Uberveritas; LinkedIn is a Business Networking platform, not for social purposes.
    Check out my blog entry on LinkedIn and XING

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks for the comment, Jan. And I would agree that LinkedIn doesn’t need to become a MySpace-style social network — but at the same time, I think you are right when you say that it needs to open itself up to more interaction in order to reach its full potential.

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  • boxeswithknobs (M)

    Twitter Comment

    Linkedin, we (we = you) have a problem – [link to post]

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