Why I “Cleaned House” on LinkedIn – When Less is More

Social Networking is all about connecting People, not linking dumb Data Records…

I’m a fan and early user of LinkedIn, and am really happy with the recent enhancements, including a public web profile and a badge:

View Zoli Erdoss profile on LinkedIn.

However, I’ve recently spent hours combing through my list of contacts, compiling a long list that I asked Customer Service to disconnect me from (why it’s not a self-serve option is beyond me…). Why do such an insane thing, the more connections the better, isn’t it? – No, it’s not.

What differentiates LinkedIn from some of the very early social networking services is the business focus, and the fact that it attempts to map one’s existing network in the real-world. Link-mongers drove business users away from Ryze, one of the very early players, and LinkedIn opened just in time to shelter the “Ryze-refugees”: the invitation-only feature was supposed to keep link-spammers away. It worked … for a while. Then “superconnectors” with thousands of contacts showed up who bombed everyone with link requests. I made the mistake of accepting most link requests in the early days, thinking rejection was rude. No, it’s not rude, it’s playing by the rules, and keeping LinkedIn what it’s meant to be, so from now on whenever I receive a link request from someone I do not know (these tend to come with the boilerpate text) I take the only reasonable action:

Today I received an email from one of these “superconnectors”: apparently I was not the only one who disconnected him, in fact LinkedIn canceled his account. He negotiated his account back, but is now complaining that LinkedIn limits invitations to 3000 individuals. He is trying to rebuild his “empire” of 16,000 contacts (yes, that is 16K!) by circumventing the rules and trying to convince his former contacts to invite him back.

I used to think LinkedIn was a better place without such link-collectors, but I guess I no longer care: let them play their game, I play by my rules. If having 16,000 contacts makes him happy, so be it. I tend to think that Social Networking is all about connecting People, not simply linking Data Records, so his 16,000 database empire is quite useless. It’s the good old rule of Quality vs. Quantity. As a result of my housecleaning my LinkedIn network has shrunk by 30%, an the extended “reach” of 3rd-level connections by a much larger margin, but it’s no longer just a database: it’s a true reflection of my social-business network. Just the way it’s supposed to be.

Update (5/8): Konstantin’s comment below is well worth reading, he hints at future LinkedIn features…

Update (5/9): A new debate on the usefulness of Online Social Networking. I think it reinforces my point: useful, but purely online (in a business context) does not make sense, should be based on real-life connections. You can’t expect to build a new network online (unless you’re happy owning 16K dummy records), but online systems help stretch your own network a little further by reaching out to contacts of your own trusted contacts.

Update (5/10): Oh, now we have guides out there on How (Not) to Get Banned from LinkedIn. Gee … how about just playing by the rules?

Update (7/25) : Vinnie LinkedOut! (?)

Update (1/22): On the other hand, Phil Wainewright may just give in … I mean Link in 🙂

Update (1/31): A major improvement in LinkedIn: breaking connections is self-serve now, you no longer have to ask Customer Service. Finally! Steve Rubel is about to clean house, too….

Update (11/29/07):  Even Facebook-ers are starting to realize that Less is More

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  1. I’m glad you right-sized. I believe strongly that LinkedIn works best when you are connected to just the people you truly are willing to recommend and who know you well enough to give you a strong recommendation when you ask to be introduced to one of their contacts (or someone one of their contacts knows).

    There are two reasons we don’t yet have the “disconnect” in the UI. One, I think ill-will can get created when people accept on a trial basis and then just as easily disconnect. We want people to be careful who to accept in the first place (though I understand perfectly that you just didn’t want to be rude). Second, we know there are “shades of grey” in professional relationships. The person who contacted you may be completely “black”, meaning you don’t want any relationship. Or he may be “grey”, as in someone you had a nice conversation with at a conference, but you don’t feel you know the person well enough to make an introduction for.

    So, we will likely introduce “disconnect” when we also provide options like “downgrade.” When there is no real relationship to begin with, people will disconnect (as they do now), but we’re pretty certain people will also do more spring cleaning with their connections and just keep their strongest contacts at the “connection” level when they have an option to re-classify some of their current connections as “people to keep tabs on.”

  2. Zoli Erdos says

    I like the “people to keep tabs on” option – currently I have a few who I met, but only once and only randomly by being seated at the same table at a conference. A courtesy business-card exchange does not make us “connections” on LinkedIn, but I did not want them to feel I was rude rejecting them – so they are now pending as unanswered….

    That said, the new option will likely be debated by some, as a way to introduce a “caste system” in LinkedIn .. 🙂

  3. I am fairly new to LinkedIn, and far from being a ‘superconnector,’ so as I learning how to properly use LinkedIn, the more I grow to prefer it to other social networking sites, especially the ones that are more about being social than truly making connections. To create a controlled list of professional contacts from which I actually make contact is important to me, and not just a wild spread chain of completely unrelated unknowns.

  4. LinkedIn could die out like some of the early social networking places if they don’t help users keep a healthy network. I wish LinkedIn gave me some good reasons (excuses) to bow out of certain links without offending people. One way would be for the links to automatically expire unless either party renews it, say every 6 months. After all, that’s how networking in real life evolves, if I don’t talk to you for many months or years, we loose touch. The same should apply to endorsements and references.

    People that cannot forget go insane. Could that be true in cyberspace too?

  5. Zoli Erdos says

    I’ve just discovered that you can now break a link yourself, and don’t need any excuse, the other person will not be notified, you just disappear from his/her list.

    This is definitely new to me, previously you had to email customer service to break a link.

  6. Excellent post. I totally agree. Luckily, that is not a problem I will have anytime soon!



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