Linkedin was useful for a moment.
That was when it was about staying in touch with former colleagues and business contacts.
It works as a contact book with automatic updates. Linkedin manages the links when people move jobs. People often move jobs in industries like technology and telecommunications.
When Microsoft Outlook was still popular, you could sync it to Linkedin. Your address book would stay up-to-date.
Linkedin at work
This was powerful for journalists with large contact books.
Need to grab someone from Telecommunications Giant for an interview on latest developments? There will be someone on Linkedin.
Want to find the person who explained software-defined networking in an earlier interview. Maybe they can help with a feature on the latest software-defined storage developments.
Linkedin was — still is — great for fact-checking. You can’t remember how to spell a name, or don’t know a person’s new job title. The information can be there at your fingertips.
But not always. Often people don’t update their Linkedin profiles fast enough when they move roles.
If you need to track down someone in business who you don’t know, Linkedin can be a good place to start.
Not as good as it was
In Linkedin’s early days you could often find the details needed to phone or email someone. This was great for a journalist needing to interview a person in a hurry.
Now few people include direct contact information on their Linkedin profile. That’s because spam merchants abuse the information. They suck email addresses and phone numbers from Linkedin pages.
Linkedin became less useful when it found it could make money brokering relationships. If you had to email someone through Linkedin’s internal system, it could take days to get a response.
When messages turn up at the other end they look like Linkedin spam. Perhaps that’s why people didn’t regard them as serious.
You could send a few free messages this way. To send more messages you had to buy a subscription. Linkedin subscriptions are not cheap; prices start at US$60 a month.
Then people learned to abuse Linkedin.
You’ve seen the dreaded “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network” emails.
Often there is no clear reason why the person sending the email wants to link. Other times, the reason is clear enough, it is also intrusive. Connect messages roll in from real estate agents, car dealers and the like.
Some people take offence if you decide not to connect. Even when you have no real-world link to that person. That was the first sign Linkedin was losing the plot.
Then the weird recommending began. Before long people you’ve never met or talked to recommend you for skills that they don’t know you have.
Here’s the thing
Linkedin’s engineers built a powerful business database. It is full of valuable data. Your data. You gave it away when you filled your profile.
There’s a reason why you are prompted for more data. Each extra field you fill is worth more money.
Linkedin sells this data for profit. That’s fine. Of course it does. Yet the usual social media relationship sees users get something worthwhile in return.
It’s not clear if users get much back at all in return for their data. Some get jobs or contracts.
There are industries and regions where Linkedin has a job-market monopoly. Where you have little choice but to have a well-crafted profile. That is a whole different subject to worry about. It deserves a separate post.
Otherwise Linkedin is of no value to most end users. Linkedin gets a far better deal. It makes a fortune selling your information to others.
That data turned out to be valuable. Last week Microsoft acquired the business. It paid Linkedin US$60 for each customer profile. That’s the data you collected and entered.
It’s often said that “you are the product” with online services. The Microsoft deal makes that clear enough. You are also the unpaid researcher and data-entry clerk.
For people who depend on Linkedin for finding work, the Microsoft acquisition is terrifying. The path between you and potential employers is now controlled by a company with a track record as a convicted monopolist.
Microsoft’s operating system monopoly might be in the past. It may have found a new one.
And anyway, Microsoft’s recent behaviour over Windows 10 upgrades shows it can still be a bully and insensitive.
Randall Stross at the New York Times makes another point in LinkedIn will make you hate Microsoft Word:
Mr. Nadella supplied one explanatory clue in an email that he sent to Microsoft employees. “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” he wrote, such as “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.” He went on to predict that such experiences would “get more intelligent and delightful.”
“Delightful” is not the first adjective that comes to mind here, or even the 10th. If I’m working in Word, I can’t see why I’d welcome the intrusion of even a close friend, let alone a bot telling me about a stranger pulled from LinkedIn’s database.
In 2012 criminals breached Linkedin’s security. They collected around 100 million emails and passwords. That’s about a quarter of all users.
It took the company until 2016 to acknowledge the size and scope of the breach. That alone would be a wake-up call about how the company regards your welfare.
Last month Linkedin sent out messages telling users it had reset passwords. When my message arrived, I considered jumping through the necessary hoops.
Then it occurred to me that I get no value from being on Linkedin. I’ve never had a worthwhile job come from the site. Some suggested jobs are ridiculous.
Sure, people connect to my account, but that’s all they do. They don’t call or invite me to coffee. They don’t hire my services. I’m not going to get a job through the service.
Linkedin exists in a vacuum. All we are doing is building a better database for a giant corporation that gives nothing back.
Not only do I get nothing back, but I get annoying emails. I killed every email-accepting option in my profile settings, but messages kept coming.
Microsoft’s plan doesn’t bother me. Having my data hawked around the market is irritating. But it’s an abstract and remote issue.
All about security
The security breach was the trigger for killing my account. Linkedin was lax in the first place, then lax about warning users there had been a breach. That’s not good.
There’s a security risk having an account with any online service. That’s fine when there’s a clear return or function from the service. That’s not the case with Linkedin. On balance, the negatives outweigh the positives.
Instead of resetting my password, I killed my account. There are still a few links on sites to my, now-deleted, Linkedin profile.
Without the security breach and Linkedin-imposed password change, I would have left the profile to rot over time. Now I have one less security risk to worry about and one less annoyance.