LinkedIn is convinced that its users want to learn more about their “connections” instead of just using them to find a new job. To showcase the strength of that belief, the company has acquired Newsle, a service that tells people when their friends are mentioned in the news. But does anyone really need more messages from a service that feels more like a source of spam than anything else?
It sometimes feels like using LinkedIn is akin to inviting a town crier into your living room, with the main difference being that you can make a town crier shut up, at least for a moment. The service sends emails about the slightest things, from job listings — usually when you aren’t looking for a new job — to connection invites from people you’ve never met. It’s irritating.
Adding even more messages to the service so people will know when their “connections” have been mentioned in the news would be like Facebook notifying its users whenever their friends post a picture of their kid: it makes sense in theory, but in practice it’ll just drive people crazy. (Or, at least, it’ll annoy people who don’t worry about “networking” or “building a brand,” which is the majority of them.)
While some people have found real value in building a professional network on LinkedIn, it’s a place most people visit out of a perfunctory sense of professional obligation or as a desperate attempt to find a new job without having to sift through Craigslist or Monster.com’s listings. Some of its users have taken advantage of its content-focused features, but the service isn’t as known for its community as, say, Twitter or Facebook.
And that’s fine! LinkedIn has managed to thrive where other social networks have failed, and that’s because the company is selling something (information about employees and employers) that people want. The company may not be as appealing as a so-called daily habit to casual users in the way Facebook and Twitter are, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place in the world or that it can’t continue to prosper.
But it does mean that trying to force content creation and consumption through the prism of “professional networking” is only going to appeal to a very specific type of person: The kind who sits on LinkedIn and uses the network to its full potential even though it’s not particularly exciting and its emails are some of the most annoying in tech. Sure, there’s an argument to be made that LinkedIn is a natural home for business content. It is, after all, one of the only channels through which non-journalists can reach an audience of professional readers, given the unlikeliness of building such an audience on Facebook and the speed with which tweeted links drown among all the noise.
But still, for most users LinkedIn will continue to be a no-man’s-land that is tolerated and occasionally visited but never enjoyed. Those people aren’t going to start using the service more because of something like Newsle, nor is the service associated more with job fairs than writing likely to convince them to start blogging if they aren’t already.
LinkedIn owns its target audience, but polishing the shackles won’t make the service any more likable — at least not until the professional version of Stockholm Syndrome settles in.