linkedin: first impressions

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You know something is happening when you get five separate requests from people you know--in a two-hour period, no less--to join a new networking service. So last night I gave in to peer pressure, and accepted the invitations to join LinkedIn, a new business-focused networking service developed by Reid Hoffman (formerly of Paypal).

I posted my first impressions over at Joi Ito's blog, but I thought I'd expand upon them a bit here.

The site has a nice look to it, and the interface is reasonably straightforward. doesn't do much for me. I'm not really a "businessperson," I suppose, and maybe I'm missing the mark here. But I dislike being asked to draw these boundaries between my "social" interactions and my "business" interactions. My relationships are more fluid than that. How do I classify my relationship to people like Joi Ito and Marc Canter and Shelley Powers? Business associates? No. We've never "conducted business." Friends? Well, sort of. As much as you can be without ever having met someone in person. Colleagues? In a virtual, distributed way, maybe. Part of my social network? Absolutely! Valuable contacts for me in professional and personal contexts? For sure.

Friendster wants to be for dating and socializing. Group-formers and business people need not apply. (And their refusal to remove the often obscene BBS posting titles from the main page is a strong indication that they want to keep it that way.) LinkedIn wants to be for serious business networkers only. None of that fraternization stuff here. Neither one gives me the environment that I really want--a way to visualize my connections to the people I have relationships to, and build on those relationships to find connections to others.

Specifically, here's what I don't like about LinkedIn.

  • I can't see people's pictures. No, this isn't a deal-breaker. But dammit, Adam's right. It's Friendster's killer app, and it's the one thing in that system that makes me go back to it again and again. At least one person has told me that this is to "discourage dating," which I find to be an unconvincing argument. We put photos of speakers on conference pages, and I doubt they get trolls for dates as a result. Context is everything.
  • I can't browse the network. Specifically, I can't see my contacts' contacts. Why would I want to do that? No, not because I'm looking for a date. I'm happily married, thankyouverymuch. Because I want to understand the nature of the social networks I'm involved in. If I'm going to share my connection info with the system, I want it to give me something back. Let me see out to at least one degree of separation.
  • The searching is seriously hampered by the fact that users can only declare themselves as part of one primary industry area. To accurately describe myself, I need to indicate higher ed and technology. And there are several areas of technology that are appropriate. Plus I'd like to throw my library science background in there. No can do. People have to pick one to search on, and I have to pick one to label myself with. That means lots and lots of people won't find each other.
  • Once I've located a person I'm interested in contacting, and initiate the connection, it starts out fine. I tested this out with two people I know--one who was already a contact (Ross Mayfield), and one who was in the system but not yet explictly my contact (Pete Kaminski). I specify what kind of contact I want with Pete. It tells me the contact has to go through Ross (until that point, I don't know how Pete and I are connected.) Ross gets email telling him I want to make this contact to Pete. If he approves it, the request goes to Pete. Pete's interested, so he says "ok." Now, here's the fatal flaw. After Pete says yes--not before--the site tells me I have upgrade to get Pete's contact information. WTF??? This guy is sitting and waiting for me to complete the contact I've initiated. If I don't do it, I look like an idiot now. But to do it, I have to give money to LinkedIn. Bad, bad model. Left a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. Want to make money of the site? Fine. But don't make the most basic use of the system contingent on that money. Prove its worth to me first. Then give me a reason to want to upgrade.

Yes, I'm a curmudgeon. But I really am frustrated by this artificial categorization of my social network, and the barriers imposed by centralized systems that ask me to characterize for them the nature of my relationships, and then give me relatively little flexibility in how that information in used.

Adam Greenfield thinks there's still room for a hybrid that brings together the best of Friendster and LinkedIn (and Ryze, and...?). I'm increasingly unconvinced. The centralization is the problem. The system designers seem unable to keep themselves from imposing their view of how relationships are defined onto the users of the system. A decentralized approach would help reduce that problem. It would also address the problem of having to re-enter your personal data in every single new system, which is driving me nuts.

So I guess I'm slowly but surely being lured into the DigID discussions, which obviously impact on this whole issue of defining myself, and defining my connections. Once I get through the end of this quarter (two weeks and counting 'til the last exam is given!), I'll have to start digging a little deeper in that area.

4 TrackBacks

LinkedIn - a network of professionals from Jens-Christian Fischer's Blog on May 19, 2003 7:43 AM

I like networking. I like the idea, that everybody is connected to everyone else through not more than six other people. I was a member of - but never got much use out of it. Anyway - there's a new company, LinkedIn, Ltd that offers this... Read More

LinkedIn - a network of professionals from Jens-Christian Fischer's Blog on May 20, 2003 3:07 AM

Updated with more links I like networking. I like the idea, that everybody is connected to everyone else through not more than six other people. I was a member of - but never got much use out of it. Anyway - there's a new company, Linked... Read More

Many weeks ago I did some post-processing on my friendster data to separate each user point by degree of Read More

I was recently invited to join LinkedIn a new business-focused networking service. I've not yet accepted, as I'm doing some independent research. Check out what others are saying.. mamamusings: linkedin: first impressions... Read More


Hey liz, I haven't had the opportunity to take a look inside LinkedIn, as I'm not sure I can due to no invitations, but if the areas are lacking that much, there's definitely a need for a middle software bundle.

I looked at the link you sent in e-mail, definitely think it bares further investigation and might even be a worthy idea to look into. Thanks for the heads up on it.

Hi, Liz,

Nice comments about the assumptions revealed by the shortcomings of these kinds of sites (and the lack of a standard set of assumptions).

Your concern with "browsing the network" is especially interesting. A desire to understand one item in a list, database, or catalogue by viewing its relationships to other items should not be considered that unusual. This is why we like to browse the nearby shelves of a library or bookstore after we find the one book we were originally after.

This is also why I like libraries where the "due date" slip is pasted into the back of the book rather than put into and taken out of a pocket: I like to see how much "action" a book has gotten recently.

I once saw a talk by Ben Shneiderman in which he discussed digital libraries projects by UMD's Human-Computer Interaction Lab. If I'm remembering correctly, one feature they wanted to implement was allowing users to see which other users had "checked out" a particular text, allowing one reader to find readers with similar interests. (No reason why this feature couldn't have worked with bricks-and-mortar libraries, too.)Privacy concerns, however, prevented this particular implementation. Although now that I think about it, I guess participation could be voluntary. Hmm. I should have brought that up...

This would be an interesting example, perhaps, of integrating social software (and networking capabilities) into library catalogues, and for academic communities it could be quite valuable. As a new faculty member, I would love to know who else on the UMKC campus has checked out Manovich's The Language of New Media, and also know whether or not any of those users have been reading up on the history of print.

Better yet, a sophisticated feature that says, "Based on the books you've checked out, you might be interested in talking with these people..."

Liz, thanks for the review of LinkedIn, I think you've saved me from spending the time on signing up. Beyond the shortcomings of their decisions about what information they make available to users, I really hate the way in which they want to make money off of you. That is, if they didn't make this clear up front then it's really bad form. For one thing, they're using you (the free information you provide about yourself and you as a node in the system that you're also providing for free) to make money. Ugh. I hesitated before joining either Friendster or Ryze but did so just to "help out" as Friendster let's you say. SixDegrees from many years ago didn't really work and I haven't seen anything in these new systems to make me think these would.

George - assuming it would be an opt-in method (which you do suggest) I like this idea of "Based on the books you�ve checked out, you might be interested in talking with these people�� I've often wondered who else checks out books I borrow. In Princeton's library, you can tell for some very old books - some of which still have the original sign-out cards - who checked them out a hundred years ago. That can be really interesting when you find a very famous name, but it doesn't quite serve the same purpose.:)

Isn't this what FOAF should be able to do? I'm no expert, but FOAF lets you define things about yourself and point to other peoples' FOAF files (relationships).

I haven't tried LinkedIn, but your comments all seem excellent to me. What's the point of not being able to see farther than your direct connections?

You can see your contacts' contacts -- although not in that form. You can query against the database, and if you don't enter any parameters you get the full closure of all your contacts' contacts -- I think.

I have only 7 direct contacts, bt my network has grown to 695 through my contacts' contacts. And I can see them, although I don't know what the connection is. However, if you request access to someone in the networkm, the system pushes the request throught the shortest path starting with a contact you know. I went through Michael O'Connor Clark and several intermediaries to get in touch with Hylton Joliffe, who I know already, actually.

I too miss pictures, though.

BTW the upgrade is free -- for the moment.

I had similar thoughts about decentralizing the whole thing...

Interesting comments - market research, in a way, for the upcoming beta release of, a government sponsored (read free) version of this same concept slated for release in Vancouver, BC, Canada.




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on May 7, 2003 8:20 AM.

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