So here's an example of how Linkedin can be useful. Rebecca, the Tokyo bureau chief of CNN had emailed me asking for information on the moblog conference because she was interested in possibly covering it. I had been meaning to get around to introducing her to Adam. Then I received a Linkedin request from Adam asking to be introduced to Rebecca to see if she wanted to cover the conference. I clicked, typed something like "you guys should talk" and... done. It was a very easy way for me to add value and I ended up helping to friends without taking much of my time.

I've been getting a steady flow of requests now and about half of them are just tests, but I really do think that Linkedin will help me manage requests for introduction. I get SO many of them via normal email and many fall through the cracks. Intros are such an easy way to help people and add value, but they are really a pain to keep track of. It's usually just a matter of searching through my email to find the email address of the person that needs to be contacted, but often I'm too busy to do that. Linkedin solves that problem. It also forces the introducee to write something focused, rather than, "I wonder if you might be able to introduce me to..."

UPDATE: Discussion has moved to the wiki

39 Comments

Or perhaps not.

I just got an email from LinkedIn informing me of Rebecca's very gracious assent to my request for contact, and clicked on it right away...

...only to be slapped in the face by LinkedIn's mandate to "upgrade my membership" (to paid status) in order to reply to her. Since I intend to do no such thing, I now run the risk that she'll interpret my radio silence as a rebuff - actually harming an incipient professional relationship before it's properly begun.

In user-experience work, one of the principles I try to live by is "first, do no harm" - whatever interaction flow you devise for your users, at least leave them no worse off than if they had never found your site.

Unfortunately, by not being particularly upfront with their users about what functionality unpaid membership affords them, LinkedIn exposes its users to the social and professional risk of snubbing someone unintentionally, and therefore commits what I have to regard as a real user- and customer-experience blunder.

Hmmm... Reid?

Adam, right now you go through the motions of signing up for the subscription, but it's actually free right now.

Before we turn on billing, we will be clearer up-front, so that no one will send a message that they would not be willing to pay for if the connection were actually successful.

We want to have billing as soon as we can, because LinkedIn is designed primarily for high-value message traffic. E.g. it should only be for connections where you seriously wish to reach that person for a business connection. Why? Because each message takes time and energy from the people who need to endorse it to their network -- so you should be serious about it. There will be some optional additional services for those who wish to allow general access to themselves from the LinkedIn userbase.

Why do we not emphasize the billing now before you send a message? Because it's not there right now. We'll be a little clearer that it's free right now. Because I can see how the rude shock occured and that's a failure in our HI. (Basically we wanted to communicate that we will be charging, but did it poorly as a "will be" since we're not yet.)

Reid, the more I use/read about LinkedIn, the less I understand the business model.

Why charge for the connection to another person if Adam could ask Joi to do it and Joi could do it for free for a few more seconds of time writing an email?

If LinkedIn "is designed primarily for high-value message traffic", that's the kind of traffic that is most valuable and is the kind of traffic that I, personally, would want to control myself, vs. having a web-service do it for me.

I don't understand what LinkedIn is supposed to replace or make more efficient. Our personal networks are as important as our reputations- in fact they are linked. Playing Devil's Advocate, why should I give that up to a web service vs. controlling it myself via email and the phone?

To put it more bluntly, if it's an important business connection, why do it through a server owned by someone else?

You're expecting a high degree of trust in you from the customers, Reid.

As Gen said, our personal networks and reputations are linked. And I just got egg on my face. I made the mistake of inviting a bunch of people to join (thinking I was doing them a big favor) before Adam alerted me to the fact they would have to pay to make use of the network. Granted, I should have played around with it more and tried out the angles before inviting anybody else to join. But when somebody whose reputation you respect introduces you to something and there doesn't appear to be money involved, you tend let down your guard. (Joi- don't worry I still respect you!! ;-) ) Now I feel obligated to email all the people I invited with an apology and a warning. No serious harm done, but still, making people feel the need to apologize to their friends and professional contacts is not a great way to build an honest business - especially one like this which seems to HINGE on trust and respect.

The question of business model is central to this series of posts. Reid&Co want to be able to monetize some aspect of supporting an *extended* trust network. The example provided above -- where Joi wants to introduce two folks in his own, personal network -- is a poor example of the potential value of LinkIn. The better example is where I would like to talk to someone at Company X, and I ask Joi (through the LinkedIn network analysis service) to pass my request along to a buddy, who does the same, and so on, for several links across the extended network. In principal, I am willing to pay for this, since I am after the contact.

First observation -- don't make people pay for intros to personal contacts.

Second observation -- paying per introduction may be the wrong way to monetize. It creates a disencentive at the point of commitment. Other alternatives (and I'm sure Reid has thought this through already) include paying per month for the right to have a certain maximum number of requests in process(a la NetFlix).

Actually, I don't think it is per contact is it? I think the deal is that if you pay then you can have 5 pending contacts at any one time... Or maybe I mis-understood.

Rebecca, I agree. Connection people who are more than 1 degree apart is a better example. This one just struck me as useful because I generally have a dozen or so pending introductions at any given time via email and I really have a hard time keeping track of them. Being reminded and having even part of the proccess automated is a big plus for me.

Having said that, reading people's comments, maybe my needs are somewhat unique. I would be happy automating what is currently extremely tedious, but important for me right now.

Ooops, I have to go do three more introductions via email before my bourbon kicks in. ;-p

The two comments were more or less separate:

1. Don't make people pay for direct introductions -- after all, you can do that already and LinkedIn doesn't add (really) any great value there.

2. The concern many have expressed is from being hit with the need to sign up to the paid service at the point of being offered the contact intro. This is a disencentive based on its timing.

Relative to how the paid service works -- I haven't looked into it, but I will do so. If it is a NetFlix-like model, probably that's the best model. It incents those who sign up for a baseline fee to really *work* the extended network, which is, after all, the whole point.

Many different threads here, so I'm going to respond in sections.

1- Trust
2- What's for "free" and what's "paid" and where the value is
3- What makes Linkedin different from what you can do with networks today.

Hopefully this will at least show the LinkedIn thoughts on the questions and challenges here.

Trust.

LinkedIn is designed so that you can exchange networks with your trusted friends and colleagues, and never hear from anyone (including any third party marketing, etc.) without their explicit endorsement.

When we were looking at how to establish trust, the design factors combined into a user-agreement and privacy policy. Essentially, we establish a contract with each registrant that we will not sell their name or market to them without their explicit permission. That they will only ever get eMails by explicit forwarding from their friends or normal working of the features of the system. (e.g "yes your friend has signed up.")

Thus, the downsides to joining are very very small. Essentially, all that happens is that your friends friends can see now that you are somewhere in their network and might approach you for a connection. (This is the only downside to being listed.) And this message will only then get to you if your friend endorses it.

In return, you get to examine your extended network of your friends who have agreed to link with you. There will very likely be some contacts there that might be useful or essential to your personal business or career goals.

Essentially, members of LinkedIn trade visibility into their extended networks, with an ability to easily gain access. Commercial entities, such as LinkedIn, can be repositories of trust due to (a) contract [as exists on the site] and (b) alignment of interests [the corp would want everyone to happily be a member for life, which is the reason that there's no use of this site other that individuals connecting with each other.]

Free. Paid. Value.

Obviously, today, everything is free on LinkedIn since we want to spend our time finishing building all of the valuable features before we build billing.

However, the final design leaves a lot free as well. It is free to join. It is free to endorse connections between your friends. It is free to search and browse the extended networks in order to see who is there. (And you could obviously always try, for free, to use that information in approaching a connection on your own.) We will, at some point, also have some free features about coordinating with your personal network... e.g. communications to people that you already directly know. (E.g. introductions between persons A and B whom you are directly connected to; you can do for free.)

These are all fairly substantial items of value that we hand out for free. Where we charge is where we add some very unique value.

Essentially, you use LinkedIn to connect with someone where either (a) you don't already know how that person connects to you [e.g. it is a connection that LinkedIn's existence directly facilitates] or (b) where LinkedIn makes it much easier to do so [e.g. because the personal endorsement chain makes it valuable.] In both of these cases, LinkedIn has added a lot of value to the connection and therefore a charge is appropriate.

The charge is only on the sending side too, since the presumption is that the person sending the connection most wants/needs the connection and is deriving the value.

So, in my personal view, I can invite people without any apology since:
- lots of free value
- you can be reached by others, in links that your friends endorse, also for free
- you only pay when you have a connection that you think is worth the process and then initiate.

And this is why we didn't build the apology "in" fyi. I hope that this makes it clearer. (The value section, next, should also help.)

LinkedIn as turbo-charging professional networking today.

Today, two degrees of professional networking work.

First, if you yourself already directly know the person, then it's easy. You just call them. However, this is rare, since you can only know a limited number of people.

Second, if you know someone who likely knows the person that you seek (either an individual, or more generally a class of individual like "great flash programmer"), then you can call the person that you know and ask them. This is generally very expensive ... before you even know if there are good results, you need to ask the person to do a task that takes some mental work: think through your network and see if you know anyone currently available of the right sort. And even if you come up negative, your intermediate person has already then spent some time and trouble.

LinkedIn's first value is that it makes this two degree contact much easier and lighter weight. If your friend has already included his network, then you can simply seach among them (along with all of your extended network) and see if any are appropriate or available. Then, you can contact them easily with your friend only needing to provide a brief endorsement of you and your project in order to facilitate.

Finally, LinkedIn allows 3rd and 4th degree networking along the web of trust, which does not happen today at all. Personally, this is what most excites me, since:
a) the trust is still real (e.g. it can still be a strongly endorsed reference)
and
b) you now have a much larger addressable market for trusted business interaction. (say 20 people in your direct connections, 400 people in your 2 degrees, 8000 people at 3 degrees, and 160000 at 4 degrees.)

Anyway, I typed all of this really quickly; does this answer the various questions and challenges here?

Reid from a customer point of view I see two major weaknesses in the LinkedIn model, which aren't addressed in your explanation above.

1) The value of a connection isn't in asking for it, but in receiving it. An important phrase in the ecomony of today is, "pay for performance." The value of LinkedIn is not in it's possibility, but in it's results. While the opportunity to make connections is interesting, there are a variety of communications mechanisms available online which provide this "possibility" today. Think Ryze. Think email. Think Blogs. Think Yahoo! Groups. For example, if I wanted to locate a great candidate for a position at my company, there is no direct indication on your site that one person is more capable than another (reputation). While I may have an understanding of the meaning of "great" candidate within my own network, that qualifier will be less understood in shared meaning when hearing it from 2, 3, or 4 degrees away.

2) There's no incentive for those 2 or 3 degrees apart to assist one another apart from goodwill which is easy to set aside when life is busy. An easy incentive would be to recognize their generosity and provide visibility for them by increasing their "facilitator" reputation a la ebay ratings. Building their reputation returns real value to the person helping versus their own internal feeling of goodwill. Given the important role that these facilitators play in the success of LinkedIn, returning value to them for their contributions is critical to your success and their continued active involvement.

There are a few improvements in LinkedIn over the other systems on which it is patterned (i.e., Spoke Software and Friendster). It will be interesting to see how this example of "social software" develops.

Deb,
Let's see if I can adjust the optics in a way that answer your concerns. (Design of this sort of software is very tricky, so I might have the theory right even if practice does not work.)

1) I completely agree. The business model, when active (not for a few months at least), only charges after you have sent a contact request that has been accepted. In other words, "pay for performance." And that the making of the contact is the high value moment. I agree that there is opportunity to make connections today, but the entire trick is do they give you access to the right set of people. Obviously, people will use the contact mechanism that works in order to find the right person. I believe that the mechanisms you allude to have serious problems today. Examples. Ryze: limited set of people, very few with any real business decision-making power or resources (CEOs, CTOs, budgets to spend, etc.). eMail: unsolicited spam to this set of people. Blogs: very limited set of people writing/publishing; highly unlikely to meet your particular need. Yahoo! Groups: if there is a particular one that you feel gives you a wide access to professional contacts, I'd love to hear about it.

For your example, I differ on your characterization of LinkedIn. I know, when I look at people in LinkedIn, that everyone here is connected to me by a short chain in the web of trust. As a manager, I would hire again 80% of the people that I have hired from my network, whereas I would only hire 20% of the people from the street. Personally, I would be much more interested in hiring from LinkedIn than these "other channels." And, if you ever hire someone on a recommendation, the closest that they can be from you is 2 degrees; so I don't understand why 2 degrees doesn't make sense for you. (and I think that three degrees makes a lot of sense, think through how personal endorsements work today; four is potentially less of an immediate sense of trust but the thought is that through strong trust links it is still valuable.)

2) I think that the incentives are two-fold today, just like professional networking. First, the desire to help with easy favors in order to build a good relationship and help your friends. (And LinkedIn is very easy, a simple eMail forward from your friends.) Second, the concept of exchange: where I help you with my network since you help me with yours. I agree (part of our product development plan) that there can be more here.

I agree with your thoughts on reputation, and we have a reputation system on the design board; that's why we have "rate this contact" at the end of a succesful contact today. We are building towards (hopefully) an effective reputation system. We already have something of a reputation system: that's what these forwarded endorsements are.

Finally, LinkedIn is not patterned on Spoke or Friendster. For professional services, I think that both have some serious flaws. We agree with Ross Mayfield's analysis, in the link above. But, this is one of those topics where hopefully we will see the theories be validated or not by how the system is in fact used. I will point out that we've already had 10% of our membership base send communication through the system in the first week of being live, although it's very early days yet.

One note. Sorry -- typing too fast. I should have addressed the note "Debi"... my bad. (Friend of mine goes by the nickname "Deb".)

Reid,

Thanks for the thoughtful response. Let me illustrate my point about the incentive to forward a request and it's weaknesses. As a new user of your service, I tried to send a request noting in the request that it was a test of the system. My request failed at the first node, because that person, who I know and added himself to my network, was concerned that the next hop was "too busy" to participate in my test of the system. Given your theory of how the request system should work, if people are "too busy" to forward a request, then why are they in the network? I couldn't have invented a better illustration of the weakness in forwarding requests.

This sort of result needn't occur very often for the system to be unusable to a large portion of the user base. What does this failure of the system mean? Is it a reflection on my reputation? Is it a reflection on the willingness of my connection to participate in the system? He wasn't properly motivated to assist me in testing the system. It's completely reasonable for users to want to test the system before using it for a business related request, or something really important. Further, refusals to forward will be the death of a service like LinkedIn. My confidence that I can derive anything useful beyond my existing network from LinkedIn has been impacted, and until I can prove that it WILL have utility for me, I couldn't be converted to a subscriber.

What should be my response to a refusal to forward? Remove them from my network as they were not helpful? Keep them in my network, but refuse their requests of me? I checked and there doesn't seem to be a way to remove someone from my connections/network or to reroute a request.

I know that LinkedIn has a quite good embedded help system, and even instructs members that they must be willing to help others to participate in the system. What happens when someone is in the network and consistently doesn't handle or forward requests? Being in beta suggests that the feature set and functionality are frozen for v1.0. However, these additions to the service are critical to it's usefulness beyond a "closed" set of people. Joi's orginal example involved managing a request within his network. Motivating those who forward and respond to requests will determine whether the service has utility across networks.

Hopefully, Joi doesn't mind me using his blog to provide you with this feedback. Further, I hope that you find the information useful.

"I tried to send a request noting in the request that it was a test of the system. My request failed at the first node, because that person, who I know and added himself to my network, was concerned that the next hop was "too busy" to participate in my test of the system...It's completely reasonable for users to want to test the system before using it for a business related request, or something really important."

I think this example demonstrates the system working exactly as intended. While I can understand your desire to 'see things in action' from a technical perspective, you could have, for example, set up multiple test accounts and sent requests to yourself.

Reid's goal with LinkedIn seems to be to ensure transactional value for both participants - this transaction was deemed (by one of the 'trusted' contacts in the middle) to be valuable only to you.

Had you decided to test things out in a slightly different way, say by requesting a connection with someone with whom you shared a common employer, location, interest, etc. (but didn't necesssarily have an urgent need to do business with), I suspect that your contact would have been much more willing to forward on the request.

Or not - if the next person down is really super-busy and only has time to handle requests directly related to business, then your contact would probably again not forward it on. I see this discretion of each trusted contact as a vital part of the process.

Stephen,

Thank you for your thoughts and pointing out an omission from the chain of events. Your suggestion for users to develop testing procedures is an interesting one. Of course, my test of the system was motivated by more than a purely technical interest. Sending messages to myself isn't what I'd call a test fo the functionality of LinkedIn. However, perhaps LinkedIn might include the ability to test the process and acquaint users with the functionality and user experience of sending and receiving requests before they do them "for real." I really don't think most users will want to acquire QA Engineer skills to be able to use a paid online service. It's just my speculation, of course.

I purposefully selected someone with which I had an existing relationship as my end target (and made that clear in my message), because this was a test. There was no way for me to predict who the hops would be to reach my target. Further, when the request was sent I was presented with a view displaying the target and first hop. The middle hop was obscurded from view to protect that person's privacy. This is clearly a desirable feature. However, what is demonstrated in my test, is that I couldn't reach someone through LinkedIn who was one hop away in reality.

The result: no connection via LinkedIn, so I sent him an email. I couldn't use the site at all to have this person join my connections. Ironic, no?

Im the person who turned down Debi's referral request. Did so purely because it was a test. And since the message was of no value and knew the next person in the chain was a busy person and had participated in testing already -- it was a chance to test the rejection feature.

If it was a real request it would have flowed through.

Ross,

Thanks for clearing this up. According to Ross my attempt to test the LinkedIn service was as he put it of "no value." The note I sent to my good friend, according to Ross, was of "no value." Do you think that my test had value to me? Do you think the fact that I was letting my friend know that I was on the system was of value to him?

So if a message that has value to me can't be delivered to someone who would receive value in that message, because the "postman" decides it's of no value, what trust do I have in the post service? None.

Thanks for providing insight into the thought process of a LinkedIn request forwarder. I'm curious if this is a scenario that makes sense to Reid.

Wow. I think that I agree with much of Stephen's and Ross's view. The best test is a real use.

LinkedIn is designed to insure the following:
1) that connections have *mutual* value, e.g. a link is only made when both the requester and recipient have an interest in the connection.
2) that connections have *high* value, e.g. a link is only made when the value was high enough to be passed along.

My sense of services like this is that, at least for the mass market, there has to be an extremely high signal to noise ratio. People get pissed off when stupid items shows up in their mail box; it's not just anti-SPAM, but also anything else that seems badly sent for me. This is true both for recipients, and for endorsers. One negative experience has strong reverberations.

So, the endorsement system is designed for both goals 1) and 2) above.

My guess between Debi and Ross: Debi, if you had said "I've lost your eMail address; getting in touch", then Ross would have forwarded it. Ross was (as I would have been in his shoes) unhappy about forwarding a message entitled "test" to a busy colleague; it would reflect badly on Ross.

And this is why each person "gates" their own network. Debi - who does not know Ross' other friend - cannot be always relied upon (even when she's a great person, a contact of Ross') to respect Ross' other contact's needs; but Ross can. Hence, we have a high signal to noise ratio since people only forward it when it reflects well on themselves.

So, Debi, how about trying a real use? :)

Hi.

I don't have time to read everything here in detail, but to explain...

I'm a journalist in London. I was recently contacted by Debi on email to explain that she'd tried contacting me on LinkedIn, and had failed. Until her email I was unaware of this. I myself have been listed in LinkedIn from (I think) day 2.

Here are a few thoughts.

In all honesty I think its highly amusing that a web site which pitches itself as trying to bring a 'real-world' model of networking (based on referral by contacts) into the online space, characterises attempts by one member to reach another as "high signal to noise" (shouldn't that be high noise to signal?), and of "no value." It's amusing because, although they are trying to ape real human relationships, in the end LinkedIn's system is acting like a barrier to relationships, where the sender gets no feedback. Even in the 'real world' I can walk up to someone I don't know and - even if only tentatively - strike up a conversation. I can't on LinkedIn.

I recently tried to make a connection to a guy whose email address I know to make a real business pitch. I may as well have emailed into a void. I don't know if he got it, or if it got passed on and was rejected. Nada. I could glean more from a bounce-back to a real email than this.

As Debi says, what happens when the 'postman' (the intermediary contact) opens the mail and doesn't like what they see? What happens - heaven forbid - if they see the approach, decide its something they might pitch themselves to the addressee and just delete the email?

Now, don't get me wrong. My initial impression of LinkedIn has been luke warm to positive, if only because I can see 'intellectually' what they are trying to do. Ryze and other similar networks are intriguing because you can literally 'see' the networks of other people - but it's an illusion that these are sites based on trust because literally anyone can contact anyone else regardless of their relationship to you and your network. At the end of the day the members themselves are the filters of the messages they get.

Although LinkedIn - *in theory* - has the potential to be a greater 'web of trust', because it applies principles about real human relationships, having said all that, the proof is in the pudding - and LinkedIn still needs to prove its actual value.

If I don't get anywhere with my own test (a genuine business pitch BTW) of making a contact, it will have proved to me that an email on LinkedIn is an email into a deep, black void. It may show that ultimately *people* are the best filters for approaches to them about business, not overly closed systems like this. Furthermore, that Ryze and similar sites where you can surf people's networks to make contacts have the right approach afterall.

Reid,

I'm stunned at distrubed by your response. You have made several unfortunate and unfounded assumptions.

1) I made a stupid request that is equal to SPAM. Quoting..."People get pissed off when stupid items shows up in their mail box; it's not just anti-SPAM...".

2) My note to Ross said only, "test."
Quoting..."Ross was (as I would have been in his shoes) unhappy about forwarding a message entitled "test" to a busy colleague; it would reflect badly on Ross."

My note to Ross said quite a bit more than you imply and it's very sloppy of you to report on the contents of a message without verification.

3) You assume that Ross' reputation is protected by not forwarding my request. Have you considered the negative impact to his reputation and the reputation of LinkedIn, when my attempt to use the system was thwarted? The fact that Ross decided to not forward the request isn't as critical as the fact that his action caused the equivalent of the blue screen of death in my use of the LinkedIn service.

4) Gate keeping is synonymous with trust. First, trust is a bi-directional activity. I no longer "trust" that requests I send through LinkedIn have any value beyond throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean. I don't necessarily trust those who withhold information from me. They consider themselves to be gate keepers, which is a pre information age concept. Is LinkedIn really trying to restore the knowledge is power paradigm?

The most unfortunate aspect of your reply is that instead of talking to my issues with the working of the service you set about focusing on the specific actions of the people involved. Your reply implies a "blame the user" attitude. It's a quaint and an ineffective customer service strategy, btw. You might consider receiving my feedback and speaking to those points. To construct and choose sides in this discussion and ignore my comments on your product leads me to conclude that you don't have answers for those points, or that LinkedIn isn't a for profit service so much as it's a clubhouse.

I didn't name Ross as the person responsible because I was not focused on him as an individual. I was focused on the ability of the service to meet my need.

Thanks for helping me to understand that your service is designed to meet the needs of the a few versus meeting the needs of those using it to make connections. The value of my request for a connection isn't something I'm willing to assign to the judgement of others. If you have users who don't have time to assist, then you need the ability to reroute requests. All useable networks route around congestion. Internet protocols are designed to tolerate errors, congestion, and even packet loss. If your TCP for people service is to be reliable and scalable (allowing LinkedIn to maximize profits), you may want to spend your time considering the system's capability to guarantee success for all users versus declarations of who you agree with.

Having said all of that I'm going to do what consumers do. I'm voting with my feet, and asking publicly that you erase all of the information I have provided to LinkedIn from your severs. The system doesn't provide the ability to do this, or I'd gladly perform the operation myself. This means my identity information and all the contacts I've provided since joining the system are to be removed. Thanks for your immediate attention to this matter.

Debi, I'm trying to understand your objections, but I can't.

The core idea of LinkedIn is that it leverages social networks not simply to enable connections between people, but to enable high-value connections -- in other words, to raise the signal-to-noise ratio of social networking.

You seem to be holding LinkedIn responsible for the fact that a contact of yours decided not to forward your request for an introduction. What do you think should have happened? Should LinkedIn have enabled the introduction no matter what? If so, then what you really want is a service like Ryze, where anyone can discover and contact anyone, no intermediaries required.

I have yet to make a request for introduction on LinkedIn (though I've passed one along). I'm aware that when I do, it may or may not go through, depending on whether the people along the way see it as a useful thing. I not only don't see this as a problem, I see it as essential -- when I receive a request for an introduction, I want to be sure that I'm bringing value to the person to whom I forward it. I want my social capital to go up as a result of the interaction.

I agree with Reid: instead of giving up on LinkedIn, why not try a real use of the system?

Debi,

My comments were based only on what was written in this previous dialogue. If others feel that I misconstrued was was written here, then please tell me. (Since I don't see that, re-reading these comments which are here for everyone to see.)

We will, of course, honor your request to withdraw from the system. Deletion is a feature we had slated for June. (Time constraints on development.) Please just send an eMail to customerservice@linkedin.com from the eMail address that you registered with. We will get to it as soon as we can. (We're in the middle of moving our production environment, so it may take a while, but this shouldn't be an issue since it's early days in the system and there's unlikely to be much communication flowing through you.)

And, like Frank, I cannot really understand your objections. It seems that this has somehow become emotionally charged for you, and so further elaboration probably will not help. All I can say is that LinkedIn is based upon a web of trust, and it seems to me (in aggregate of your most recent comments) you don't trust the people around you that you have invited into the system to be appropriate "gateways of trust" for your needs and communications, or the others that they have invited. It is true that it would be better for LinkedIn (financially) if we said "sure, contact anyone you want, ignore the necessary recommendation of their friends", but that would be a violation of the trust and service that we are trying to provide for them.

I wish you the best in all future endeavours.

Debi --

You continue to misinterpret my rationale for the role I played in your test message and extend the logic of the instance with hasty generalizations. I would elaborate, again, but I don't think it would be of any consequence.

Ross,

Let me say this again, very plainly. The reason for your decision in this instance is not my focus or concern. My focus is on how the SYSTEM responded/didn't responded. What options did the SYSTEM provide? Could be my confusion on using LinkedIn is the stated beta test period. Most beta tests involve users testing software and providing feedback. Apparently, LinkedIn's beta means something altogether different.

Ross, were we not having this online discussion, based upon the performance of the system I wouldn't have a clue why you made the decision you did...nor do I care. You aren't the issue. You and Reid insist on making your comments personal versus addressing my concerns with the system. It is that very behavior that I characterize as "blame the user." I've given Reid multiple opportunities to respond to my questions, suggestions and concerns. He could talk about future features. He could talk about any number of things that are related to this new service of his. Instead, he chooses to instruct me that my request was stupid. That it was of "no value." Reid chooses to ignore my substantive comments which he has every right to do. Now, I'm excercising my right to disengage from a service that I deem to be of low personal ROI.

This discussion has degraded to the point of being a "your wrong" and "we're right" pissing contest. It's clear that I'm not going to receive a response addressing my points on the system's functioning and it's equally clear that you and Reid aren't willing to hear me. Best thing to do under those circumstances is to give up and move on. Do either of you still need to have the last word?

Respond to this criticism of LinkedIn. Specifically, here’s what I don’t like about LinkedIn. You'll have to scroll down, but there are some very good points made here. Yes, I'm aware that she is a virtual acquaintance and blog collaborator with Ross. Elizabeth makes some interesting observations in her assessment.

Debi, could you help all of us to more clearly understand your issue? Specifically, could you tell us exactly how you think the LinkedIn system should have responded to Ross' decision not to forward your request? With that information in hand, perhaps we can have a more productive discussion. I think many of the people taking part here are friends both on and offline, and it would be a shame for any of us to feel that we haven't been listened to.

Also, Debi, as a personal note, I can tell you that Reid is extremely sensitive to the people around him and their concerns. Given the work of launching a company, and his myriad other commitments (check his profile on LinkedIn), he's really gone the extra mile in trying to respond to your concerns here. Text is a limited medium, and it can be difficult to precisely interpret what people are saying, so I'll speak for him and tell you that I'm sure he doesn't want you to walk away unhappy from your LinkedIn experience.

Frank,

Thanks very much for your suggestion. A more productive conversation would have been desirable. However, I've already put allot of time and effort into communicating my feedback on using the LinkedIn service. We all have limits to our available time. I'm not acquainted with anyone who isn't very busy these days.

I do agree with you that it's unfortunate to not be heard. I'm very easy to reach having provided my email address on every post, and residing in the SF Bay Area. Anyone here who wanted to overcome the limits of text based communication could have done so, and even reduced that extra mile to maybe a quarter mile. :-)

I have some questions about the service, and some observations.

+ Debi's comments about comparing this to computer networking protocols like TCP/IP are
interesting. I have a couple of questions that are not clear from looking at the LinkedIn web site:

1) If I am a user and make a request, what kind of acknowledgement (ACK/NACK) do I get from the system as to what happened to my request. If one of my contacts decides not to forward it, do I really get no feedback? That seems wrong, i.e., it's worse than email or personal contact, because in both cases, it's considered pretty rude to not respond at all, one way or the other, for a request to contact a specific third party.

2) I know many of the people in my network can be reached through several different paths. How does LinkedIn deal with that. Are all my request always channelled through a single arbitrary connection? That seems broken.

In the real world, there are two cases I can think of regarding networking (personal human networking). In one case, I "broadcast" a request like "I'm looking for a programmer who knows Excel and Visual Basic", to any of my friends who I think can help, and it is possible and not at all embarassing if several of them may contact a particular person.

But if I'm looking for VC money, maybe I want to serialize my requests through a single point of contact at a time, so I don't appear desperate for money.

(All hypothetical examples)

I can't see how I can tell what happens in LinkedIn, it is a black box as far as how my request reaches its target through multiple paths.

3) Because this is supposed to be for "high value" requests, it is vital that people know what to expect. To make an analogy, if I have an expensive piece of wood, and I want to make a precision cut, and someone hands me a new saw which I have never used before, I would be very reluctant to work on this wood without trying the saw out on some scrap.
Perhaps the service providers could provide some "stories" about different scenarios and what happened, both success and failure, to illustrate how the service works in practice. This may have to wait until it actually has been used successfully by some number of people.

4) In my experience, many times the way to get someone indebted to you is to ask them for a favor, paradoxically. That is, making someone feel useful is a significant benefit to them.

If this is so, then perhaps the intermediate people should *pay* for the opportunity to forward requests, i.e., to be a dealmaker, rather than the person making the request paying.

just a thought.

Henri,

Thx for the observations, feedback. I'll try to be pithy.

1) Probably the feedback needs to be improved. We do give the following feedback: your contact request is still en route, it's been accepted, and it's been denied either (a) anonymously, which case we are general and unspecific by request of the denier just like professional networking today) or (b) by specific statement of the denier. (In the case of the discussion in this thread, it was denied specifically with the person identifying themselves and saying why they had.) But, the feedback and msging almost certainly can be substantially improved.

2) Today's algorithm is a point-cast by shortest channel. We're measuring various variables to improve routing channel success. (E.g. who tends to approve requests to this person might overwhelm shortest channel.) We don't want to multi-cast these requests because of communications load. Since each individual provides a gateway of trust to their network, you exponentiate communications flow if you multi-cast.

We have a design for being able to select channels, and also to try a second channel, which we've not launched yet. (A) these complicate the process where as much simplicity as possible is desired; (B) we hope for the requests to be of sufficiently high value that they will generally reach their destination. (which, fyi, is the current statistic in the system.) But, we definitely see many of these issues and appreciate the feedback.

We have a broadcast feature slated for next month. (Agree entirely with this use case.)

We're black box on the path, since that's professional networking today. People who have strong networks *generally* (not always) are very closed and guarded about (a) if they've communicated to them, (b) how they've communicated to them. For example, people ask me all the time for introductions to people and I generally say "when appropriate" or "if I have time for it when I'm talking to them" or "when I feel that they'd also be interested in this communication." We don't share the path (other than the next step, which we do share) in order to protect the privacy of the referrer. (Otherwise the referrer might be harrassed about -- did you send it to Bill Clinton, did you?)

3) We're definitely working on the messaging, and (to my own amazement at the speed) we're already working towards a few testimonial cases. We should provide this sort of messaging, and that's one of the things that we're working on. Today in fact, but releases take some time.

4) Agreed. But, it's important that the intermediate people are completely unbiased from the social judgement. We're working this into the messaging, but the principal of sending a request or forwarding it should be:
- the (next) person will be grateful that you forwarded the request, even if the specific business connection proposed doesn't work.
- example: forwarding a potential technology or company to a VC who decides not to fund, but is grateful because the technology or company is real, and the forward counts as real deal flow.

It could be mildly grateful or neutral, like: this person is looking for a job, this might help them out. And in a hiring situation, both people win.

Thx for the time. I'm very grateful for everyone (including Debi, regardless of some disagreements about understanding) for putting in their thoughts, time, and attempts to improve the service.

I used to be in professional outside sales. I presently work in internet security enforcement.

I understand a scam very well when I see one. The problem is, I agree with Mr. Hoffman to a certain extent. Caveat emptor... "let the buyer beware". The problem is... we cannot rely on entrepreneurial individuals such as Mr. Hoffman to give us a clear picture of what Trust, Value and Differentiation.

Trust: What trust? If I offer you something, requesting 1.5 times that in return, where's the trust? I'm not trusting you. I'm contractually obligating you to return what you took from me, plus profit. There is no trust in a transaction. When I go to the clothing store, I don't want to hear a spiel... I do the research, I figure out what I need, I pay them, and I leave. When I closed on my house, the realtor called two months later to "follow up"... Did he really give a crap or is this just part of the game we play when we sell ourselves? You bet it was. My response? I got what I wanted out of him... and now the relationship is over. He needed to know that I didn't care about him any more than he cared about me... and that neither I nor him are under the mistaken impression that either gives a crap about the other.

Value: If products sold themselves exclusively on the merits of their own features, sales and marketing would not exist. Sales and marketing exist solely to push the edge of the envelope as far as legally possible. Any sales seminar, even the Dale Carnegie "How to Win Friends and Influence People" course on interpersonal communications, is aimed at one thing: Creating the perception that others are getting what they want, ultimately for the purpose of getting what you want. Let me say that a scientific argument differs from a sale because a scientific hypothesis begins with the evidence that appears to correlate or corroborate something, and then asks, "What does this evidence tell us?" A sales pitch begins with stating the perception "This is great" and follows with "evidence", often testimonials (the absolute worst kind of evidence there is), handpicked selectively to create a one-sided perception that the product is the greatest thing since sliced cheese. This raises the question: What's Mr. Hoffman doing here selling us desperately on the merits of his service? Trying to generate more revenue potential for the company. The idea that it's free now is not what's driving people to sell it.. it's the promise of a future payoff. There is one major flaw in all network marketing schemes, ranging from Amway to certain organized religions, which should be obvious to most reasonably intelligent people but unfortunately isn't: The absurdity of obligating yourself now in exchange for the promise of something to be delivered to you later at an unspecified date. In this society, our entire economy revolves around that false promise, and I'm not making this into a discussion of sociopolitical structure... but I am pointing out the irony: If you are willing to obligate yourself now for something that isn't delivered now, it's at your own risk. The problem isn't in what the service is offering. Isn't it interesting how some companies will go to great lengths to ensure that the legal fine print makes it abundantly clear that you are the willing idiot in this transaction, yet leave the door absolutely wide open as to what their own obligations to you are. Case in point: It is a legal certainty that you WILL be billed for taking advantage of certain services. What services can they bill you for? Well, that's not quite clear... it could be anything. But we do know for certain they've reserved the right to change any of those billed services.

Differentiation: Again, a matter of perception. The fact that Mr. Hoffman has to come here, or anywhere else, and sell us on the virtues of LinkedIn should demonstrate that there is no real, tangible product differentiation... Just the perception of it.

Bottom line... if you believe you got a good deal, you got a good deal. If you believe you were screwed, you were screwed. No one else can tell you what is of value to you... you create that value perception yourself. Just because ten million people value Burger King food doesn't mean that the reasons they value Burger King food will ever serve as any sort of criteria for whether or not I value Burger King food.

Ah, but the purpose of network marketing is as clear as direct mail... As absurd as both tactics seem, and I'm going to paraphrase the most overused cliche in the sales and marketing world here, the name of the game is to "throw as much crap to the wall as you can and see what sticks." It's the easiest thing in the world, any idiot can do it.

Direct marketing (mailers, etc.) and spam have an abominably pathetic success rate... but will anyone convince them to stop doing it? Absolutely not. The fact that LinkedIn appears to be nothing more than a direct marketing scheme that sells itself on the virtue of "success by sheer volume" right there alone should tell you there's no real trust, value or differentiation involved... It's just about throwing as much crap to the wall as you can to find that one percent stupid enough to buy this lemon.

If you look at Hollywood, even THEY bombard us with some of the stupidest movies ever given the green light for production... Terminator 3 stands to be the most expensive film ever made ($170 million)... all in the hopes that the five people in the audience who weren't laughing at the trailer will actually go see that piece of crap even though Arnold's career is through... does he trust the studio to turn his entire career around? Does he care? Hell no! He's got his $30 million salary in WRITING.

Unless you're a complete idiot willing to trust people who don't trust you... I strongly recommend you don't agree to anything unless you get precisely what you expect/want guaranteed in writing. Otherwise, you might as well start ordering those Publishers' Clearing House subscriptions... who knows, "You may have already won TEN MILLION dollars."

Metatron, if you'd care to make a concise point about LinkedIn, I'd be happy to respond to it (as, I'm sure, would others here). In the meantime, all I can say is that if you believe LinkedIn is a "scam" or a "direct marketing scheme," then you have a seriously flawed understanding of what LinkedIn is and how it operates.

Why isn't this conversation taking place on LinkedIn?

I understand the Keep It Simple mantra that LinkedIn seems to want to stick to, but a forum for users, a public suggestion box, a weblog or some other place for give and take seems to be needed if the conversation in this post is any example. It'd be very Clue Train ;-). Seriously, I'm sure there are lots of people who have the same concerns about LinkedIn.

And it seems that Reid himself has a lot of insight to share. People like it when they know the face behind a product or service. I think everyone reading this thread today has more confidence that problems are being resolved and issues being considered because of Reid's input. Going to LinkedIn right now wouldn't provide this feeling.

-Russ

I'd like to describe my own first experience with LinkedIn, which is similar but not identical to Debi's:

I searched for a particular technology that I use, mostly out of curiosity. There were very few results, so I picked one, and sent a request. In my request, I made it clear that I explicitly wanted to connect more directly with other users of this technology, even though I did not have any specific business proposition to make at this time.

Well, my request was rejected at the first link. The reason was because my connection wasn't sure if his connection would approve of the request being made. Now, I'm actually not sure whether this other person had a direct connection to my intended target or not, but the principle remains the same. My request was thwarted regardless of whether the person who would have received it would have found it of value, and possibly without one of their trusted connections being able to make that determination for them either.

Furthermore, neither I nor my direct connection can 'steer' future requests around this person, who is, in effect, now an insurmountable obstacle.

All this points to problems with requests travelling though more than three degrees of separation. There is little value in passing along a request for intermediaries who don't have a direct link to either of the end points.

Folks,

Sorry -- have been travelling, and so am just getting around to responding to issues.

On a highline, I do think that we should put some information, discussion, etc. on LinkedIn. The lack is probably my own ignorance; I had hoped to just to launch quietly (e.g. invite friends, who invite friends, who invite friends), and hadn't adequately realized that a public discussion of it would start immediately. So, given that we're a small group, we're scrambling to get everything done in the right time frame. [our real goal is to launch the features that are really interesting; the current displayed set is just the absolute minimum to offer value.]

Second, regarding Metatron's lengthy post, there's tons. It's absolutely ok for a person to decide not to participate; we try to offer a certain value, but if the individual doesn't believe it, that's fine. I am little disturbed by the lack of a name -- I tend to believe in personal accountability. (I use my own names in these posts; I stand behind what I say, even if I say something foolish or miss the point.) And, this leads to the highline points on metatron. Actually, I'll do a separate post directly to that point.

Michael: I agree that we have not designed this as best we can. We're working on it. And, I apologize for our design defects as yet. But, this is also how professional networking works today. Basically, you need to send a proposal request that clearly identifies why the recipient might be interested in it ... this allows the intermediates to forward it happily. The thought that underlies the design of LinkedIn: who best knows what a person might want to receive? those people who that person knows, trusts, and has explicitly linked(in) to in a forwarding network. It's not a 100% accurate, but should be more accurate than anything else.

I know that the requests that I've denied would categorically not have been interesting to the people that they went to.

Anyway, perhaps more when I'm less hasty. I hope that this is is helpful.

all the best,
Reid

Metatron,

A few thoughts.

1) I designed a system that I could honorably invite my friends into. Remember: this service launched by all of the people in the company inviting in their friends and trusted colleagues. Personally, I don't think that there's a price for which I would violate their trust. (And it's true for my entire team.) It's what caused us to craft our privacy policy, the contract of the user agreement, etc. in order to say NO marketing, NO solicitations, except as they come through your friends.

2) It can generally be wise to distrust corporations. Now, there are things that you can trust corporations for. For example, there are clear fiscal penalties for violating contracts and privacy policies. Plaintiff's attorneys can sue you for huge claims; Attorneys General can take you out of business. That's why all of the LinkedIn policies are enshrined to a user agreement and to a privacy policy. Likewise, companies are basically valued on their 10 year revenue stream -- hence long-term relationships with customers are very important to any company that hopes to build asset value. Therefore, as a corporation, we are very incented to keep you a happy camper. Obviously, you cannot please all of the people all the time, but targeting the highest possible set over time also works.

3) The product is about enabling, empowering people to help each other by exchanging visibility and potentially (gated) access to their networks. I don't really understand your critique, in this light. I keep re-reading each of the points... it seems like this is real value for some people, perhaps not for you.

Anyway, I think that points 1) and 2) address the fear of direct marketing scam; the rest I don't understand, so 3) is just a generic statement of the real value that we are trying to provide.

all the best,
Reid

The point is that you are responsible for your own information.

The other point I see here is be serious. Do not invite people who create traffic. Use this as a business tool only.

Do not complain about free service. Help them fix it if you have time.

If you get spammed, there are ways to find out where it comes from.

There are legal levels in play here that have not yet even been officiated.

I love it. This is how it should be, all the time.

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