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LinkedIn, Watered Down

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LinkedIn used to be the “useful” and “honest” social network. On Facebook, “friends” are often just casual acquaintances or even people you’ve never met, but LinkedIn contacts are, for many of us, people we actually have some professional connection with, even if it’s at a remove. In order to recommend someone on their LinkedIn page, you’ve had to actually write a sentence or two about them, which meant you had to actually know something about them.

No more. A few months ago we LinkedIn users started noticing the site presenting us with a screenful of our contacts with their skills noted and quick links for “endorsing” them for specific skills. All we have to do to endorse is click. And conversely, we suddenly started getting emails saying that so-and-so has “endorsed” us for such-and-such a skill.

The problem is, by making these “endorsements” so cheap and easy, LinkedIn has made them meaningless. This hit home to me in a big way the other day when LinkedIn sent me a congratulatory email proclaiming that I am “one of the top 1% most endorsed on @LinkedIn in United States for Copy Editing.”

I have my doubts about the veracity of this. I don’t use LinkedIn much. I have 311 connections – a healthy number, I suppose, but by no means a remarkable count. But even if my one-percent status is true, it’s false in a deeper sense: The majority of my contacts don’t know me as a copy editor anyway. Some of those who’ve “endorsed” me for that skill have never been privileged to observe my ace copy editing abilities.

Some have never worked with me at all.

For my part, I haven’t taken the bait when presented with screensful of people to “endorse.” Nothing against you, honorable LinkedIn colleagues, even you 99-percenters; your skills at this and that are surely top-notch. And if LinkedIn is a truth machine, an endorsement from me, a one-percenter, should be an extra-fluffy feather in your cap.

But in reality, it would be cheap, nearly meaningless, and thus simply sad. Not sad just for us, but for LinkedIn, once the “professional” network but well on the way to turning itself into just another self-esteem machine.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Horvendile

    You can endorse me for crazy stalker fan. You know I’m good at that.

  • Good piece, and not just because I’ve not taken the bait like yourself. This new promotion reminded me of all the folks asking me to play Farmville at FB

  • Anarcissie – so you’re saying social networks have no true social function, but are PURELY for commercial exploitation? If that’s the case, they’ve pulled the wool over lots of people’s eyes. But my point was that LinkedIn presented itself as a socially useful, because more “honest,” forum, and it has now undercut that status.

  • The economic function of social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook is to obtain information about their users and sell it to corporations or possibly the government. ‘Endorsements’ no doubt yield more information of the sort LinkedIn wants to collect than requiring users to go to the effort of writing something.

    What would a ‘truthful’ social network look like, anyway? Who would use it?

  • I do so agree. I wrote about this on my blog back in October. How can someone I’ve never met ‘endorse’ me? Among all the things that I have done professionally, I find I have also been endorsed for portrait painting, which is something I listed as a hobby. I’m tempted to add something I’ve never done, such as mountaineering or white water rafting, and see if anyone endorses me for it!