LinkedIn is the “professional” equivalent of Facebook, and - up until recently - rather less annoying. Yes, there are some people who try to use it to promote their company’s services, and, no, I really don’t need to know about tiny changes to my contacts’ CVs, but I can ignore most of that.
It also offers some small amusement value. Do people ever add more skills to their profile except when they are looking for a new job?
But now it appears that LinkedIn are determined to test their users’ patience. They have a shiny new feature that allows people to endorse each other for the skills they are claiming on their profiles. In the last few weeks I have been endorsed for several skills that I don’t have, by people who know next to nothing about my real-life experience. I’ve also been endorsed for expertise I did once have, but which is no longer relevant, again sometimes by people who are not qualified to judge.
Recommendations are a different matter, because you actually have to write some words (and describe your working relationship with the person you are recommending). However, it’s not unusual for two people to recommend each other, which makes them meaningless.
But endorsing someone is as easy as clicking a button, and it is almost impossible to verify whether it has any value. So why would any potential employer take any notice? John Naughton has a theory about this:
John Naughton | The Observer | Sunday 30 December 2012
Recently, baffling emails from LinkedIn began to trickle into my inbox informing me that so-and-so had "endorsed" me. What it meant, apparently, is that so-and-so had affirmed that I do indeed possess the skills that my profile claims I have. Not having asked anyone for such endorsement, I was initially perplexed.
Then the trickle turned into a steady stream. It seemed that everyone on my contact list had, somehow, been badgered into confirming that my online CV wasn't fraudulent. I began to feel like some kind of electronic mendicant, trespassing on the goodwill of friends and colleagues alike. Finally, I became really irritated by the presumption of a service that, in an idiotic attempt to drum up activity, had been annoying people into effectively giving me a reference that I do not need.
It turns out that I'm not the only person to be annoyed by LinkedIn's gambit. As my colleague Dr Quentin Stafford-Fraser acidly observed in a lovely blog post: "Frankly, I wouldn't, in the first place, link to anyone I thought was likely to lie on their CV. I'm old-fashioned enough to remember the days when a LinkedIn connection was meant to imply some sort of endorsement in itself."
Interestingly, it turns out that one can "endorse" people for skills that they never knew they had. "I never listed any on my LinkedIn page," writes Stafford-Fraser, "until some kind friend said I was awfully good at 'architecture', which I assume they meant in the sense of 'computer systems architecture', but, who knows, perhaps they had seen my old garden shed modifications? Hoping for some interesting job offers from that one."
In a neat postmodern joke, Stafford-Fraser then added "LinkedIn endorsing" to his list of skills and was gratified to find that several contacts had generously endorsed his skills in that field. "So maybe," he mused, "by way of bringing a little festive cheer, I should be endorsing their LinkedIn-endorsing-endorsing?"
Touche! What obviously lies behind LinkedIn's fatuous wheeze is an attempt to drum up page visits to its site. Each endorsement email is clearly designed to trigger a site visit by the gratified recipient, where he or she is invited to add the unsolicited endorsements to their profile. In the end, therefore, LinkedIn merely confirms once again the first law ofinternet services: if they're free, then you are the product. So here's a new year resolution for all netizens: try paying for online services and rediscover the liberation of being the customer who is always right.