Why LinkedIn doesn't deliver as a social media network for professionals

While Facebook made sharing with family and friends a joy, LinkedIn has filed to make social networking for professionals fun. Here's what's wrong with LinkedIn.

Prognostications aren't exactly my strongpoint. I always avoided investments in Google, justifying that position by believing that they're just a search engine, and every other big project they've tried to lift of the ground, be it their online shopping venture named Froogle, or their Google Plus social network, always seems to fail. I've had other off-base opinions including about the veracity of various high-tech companies, including my beliefs about the long term strength of Apple, or the utility of Twitter. I'm not throwing out flame-bait here; As I said, my prognostications about the long term utility and financial viability of big tech companies have missed the mark in the most spectacular of ways.

Another tech company that apparently I've been wrong about? LinkedIn. And I use the term apparently because I'm still not convinced that I'm wrong. I've never seen LinkedIn as anything more than an annoyance, and the fact that it has managed to build for itself a market capitalization of up to 35 billion dollars at one point in time just makes me shake my head.

Spam based growth

My first objection with LinkedIn, right from the start, was the nefarious way they insidiously extracted the email address books of users, only to fire of hundreds of emails to everyone in those address books, urging them to sign up and sign in. And of course, as soon as that happened, LinkedIn would grab those user's address books and start the spamming all over again. The most voluminous and annoying junk email I have ever received from a supposedly reputable company were the emails from LinkedIn constantly telling me to sign up. They obtained the email accounts of so many users and organizations that I kept getting new emails from every email prefix I have ever used. LinkedIn put a sour taste in my mouth right from the start, and as I've watched the company grow, that taste has never sweetened.

Questionable utility

Furthermore, LinkedIn has always provided what I believe to be a highly questionable utility. The ability to post your resume in a central location and allow recruiters to view it is handy, but it's hardly a reinvention of the wheel. Identifying exactly what it is that LinkedIn offers, other than the ability of recruiters and headhunters to view your resume, is difficult to do. Hosting resumes is something they do well, but beyond that, there's not much meat on the bone.

I've always asserted that the business world needs a social media network of its own, basically a Facebook for Professionals where I can share my professional life with likeminded people in the same way I share my personal life on Facebook with my friends. Of course, this was always the promise of LinkedIn, but it's a promise on which they've failed to deliver.

Part of the problem with LinkedIn is that there is no incentive to decline a friend request, or what they classify as a connection. As a result, the typical user gathers up hundreds, if not thousands of weak connections, with the vast majority offering little value and delivering nothing but noise. The result is a useless LinkedIn experience, along with a newsfeed and constant updates that are littered with nothing more than useless press releases, along with an Inbox that is nothing more than recruiters asking if you know of anyone who could take that programming contract in Tuktoyaktuk.

Lack of innovation

I was initially unimpressed with LinkedIn, but as the years progressed, I was astonished by how little the site innovated. While Google was creating circles with Google Plus, where you could really organize your friends and control how you presented information to different groups (a need that is much greater in a business environment than in a personal environment) LinkedIn did little more than copy key Facebook features by providing very basic newsfeed capabilities. While other social media sites innovate, LinkedIn doesn't seem to offer much more than what one would obtain with an out of the box Liferay implementation, and not nearly as much as one might get out of IBM Connections. If you weren't impressed with LinkedIn five years ago, there's very little compelling you to go  back and give the site a second chance.

The also-ran social network

If you were to log into your LinkedIn account, the site would indeed look active, with lots of user-generated content. People still post to LinkedIn and populate its newsfeed, but from what I've noticed, it seems like much of the content is posted after it has appeared somewhere else, or at best, posted as a secondary intention.

It's not unusual to see an article posted on Twitter today, as soon as it is published, and then see it a week later on LinkedIn. You can tell that LinkedIn was not the poster's top priority. It also appears that much of what gets posted on LinkedIn is a benefactor of the option many content management systems have which allows an article to be jointly posted to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the like. I will see contently jointly posted on LinkedIn and Twitter, but when I message that author on LinkedIn, there won't be a response, but a direct message on Twitter gets their immediate attention. It's anecdotal, but it tells me that for many of the thought leaders I know, LinkedIn simply isn't a priority.

Right from the start, it's been difficult to fathom why LinkedIn gets so heavily fawned over by the media and financial advisors alike. Accordingly, it was with a certain amount of  schadenfreude that I watched LinkedIn's market capitalization get cut in half as their stock dropped from a high of around $250 to a low in the high 90s. There is a need for a social network that targets professionals, but I've never believed that LinkedIn was it. Maybe I was right about this one.

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