by Jacques Gordon
Last month I found an old Rolodex hiding at the back of a desk drawer. Even though they’re still available and used by more than a few businesses, younger people may have never seen a Rolodex. When e-mail became common, people began ignoring their vast collection of business cards in favor of an electronic address book. Business cards are still as common as ever, but it’s been years since I flipped through them looking for contact information.
Mark Zuckerburg wasn’t the first to create a user-generated, web-based contacts database and communication tool, but he showed the world how to make it work. His idea was emulated by LinkedIn, often described as ‘Facebook for professionals.’ LinkedIn has positioned itself as a social networking tool for business, used by individuals and by businesses themselves. It’s designed as a place to post a comprehensive resume (profile) that can be updated any time, and to research other peoples’ resumes. It also lets people contact and communicate with others in the same field or profession. Barely ten years old now, LinkedIn claims over 200 million subscribers in more than 200 countries. As a business tool, there’s no denying its potential.
I’ve been a subscriber for more than half of its existence, but since I’m not looking for a job I tend to ignore LinkedIn. They must have noticed, because in recent months LinkedIn has begun sending daily e-mail invitations to visit the Website. Even though third party introductions have always been possible, suddenly I’m getting daily connection requests from people I don’t know and have never met or done business with. Well that’s part of why it exists, but in addition, an increasing number of people are “endorsing” me without knowing anything about my skills. For example, a long-time personal friend has just endorsed my skills as an editor. He’s in a completely different business and he’s never read a single article of mine, so he knows nothing about my professional skills. But LinkedIn invited him to endorse me as an editor, so he did.
LinkedIn is stirring the pot to get people to visit the Website, and they’re doing it by encouraging pollyanna-like behavior that deflates its value. I use LinkedIn to expand and organize my database of professional contacts, and I value endorsements from other professionals who know me and are familiar with my work. But by actively soliciting those endorsements, LinkedIn has made it impossible to know if they are genuine or if they’re made out some a sense of obligation or professional courtesy, or in hopes of reciprocation.
An up-to-date personal database of business contacts that I can access and connect with from anywhere in the world is an amazingly powerful tool, and I’ll never give it up, but I’m not happy about the increasing signal-to-noise ratio. Still, I haven’t forgotten that it’s a free service, paid for by advertising that provides useful business information. Hey wait; I’m in that business too! I wonder if LinkedIn will endorse me?
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