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The problem with LinkedIn – the open source column

The quest for more cash continues to make services weaker in some prominent cases, argues Simon…

If you’re looking for an online service that has a habit of incorporating lots of the problems inherent in the approach to modern day technology, then pull yourself up a seat, help yourself to the coffee, and perhaps nab a biscuit from the jar. Because I want to talk about LinkedIn.

In fact, talking about LinkedIn appears, from what I can tell, to be the thing that most people do with it. Precious few people seem to use it for the reason in which it was intended, and yet the vast majority of us appear to have been on the receiving end of an invitation to use the service at some point in our existence.

And, in theory, there’s something to be said for it. A niche social networking service solely for professional contacts where you can track down new businesses, talk to people you otherwise may not have any real access to, and make contact with other professionals. This is all useful and has merit – particularly as a social network attempting to do something productive.

Sadly, the people behind LinkedIn appear to have watched The Social Network and decided, in the modern day way that infects much software and many services, that they want more. In an era when Facebook can go shopping and dump a cool $19bn on something it fancies, that seems to be the kind of level that LinkedIn wants to be at. Thus, it throws all manner of nonsense at you now, that dilutes what presumably was the original intention behind the service in the first place.

I logged into to LinkedIn before penning these words to see if I was being unfair. Sadly, the main feed had a news story that had been recommended by someone I didn’t appear to be a contact of, a tantalising tease (read: advert) as to how I could earn a lot more money, the contacts of some people’s alternative social network feeds, and the news that ITV had recommissioned the TV series Birds Of A Feather for a new series. Helpfully, some people that I didn’t know had ‘liked’ that particular story (or whatever ‘liking’ is in LinkedIn parlance).

It seems a shame that once companies, services and products go over a certain threshold of prominence, that the drive for more overtakes a focus on what actually matters. That’s not always the case, of course, but it does feel like it’s a trap that LinkedIn has walked slap into the middle of. I’ve been on the site for a couple of years now, and received one communication once that nearly led to some work. Everything else has been noise, and a flurry of emails to my inbox alerting me to things that veer more to the side of trivia than use. That you then get an excited email offering you a free upgrade to premium services in exchange for your credit card details just about sums up the approach.

LinkedIn, as an idea and as a service in its current form, is not without merit. But it does feel that it is without focus, that its reason for being wouldn’t make those behind it enough billions, and thus it’s going off track in the search for a new pot of gold. You don’t have to look far in the world of technology to see others that continue to make the same mistake. You don’t always get ridiculously rich by sticking to your proverbial guns. But the end result does tend to be better, and just a little more relevant…