Friday, October 8, 2010

LinkedIn First, LinkedOut Later...

To a metadata freak, LinkedIn is a marvel of information science. It is the botanical garden of social media.

Every germinating seed is dutifully watered in flower beds tended by a volunteer army of self-selected gardeners. The blossom worth budding here is that the attentiveness is anchored to the premise that our professional fortunes depend on this.

The LinkedIn premise is a massive database of self-administered professional life narratives. Access is determined by a network of click-happy connections: show you mine if you show me yours (both the resumes and the contacts).

The database gets regular feedings and weedings because -- hey -- those are my bowling trophies and and inflationary job titles and biopic documentaries I put on my reality series reward card program. Psst ... got any seed money?

What I'm unpacking here through unlicensed metaphor is a database of resumes. The splendor of the architecture is that the profile templates are self-organizing. There are no semantic web quibbles over taxonomies versus folksonomies, what vocabulary is worth controlling and which tag clouds deserve to float above the fog. In doing so, LinkedIn has achieved organic adherence to the age-old riddle:

How do I describe my uniqueness in the least invasive and most universal way possible?

That vessel is the cross-fertilization of the knowledge garden we researchers, sales animals, and job-seekers can all cultivate, horse-trade, or hunt down online through the sprinkler system known as LinkedIn's "advanced search features."

I did a session on this for the career options folks at my Alma mater of Hampshire College last month. It was fascinating to map the academic disciplines signified by each of the colleges schools to the requisite job skills, career paths, and institutional dimensions reverberating in the professional odysseys of Hampshire grads.

Then just last week I get pinged at work by Jon Lee, a Hampshire cohort from a 1.5 separation degree of overlapping concentric social circles circa 1980-84. Who better than a former Hampster and current job-seeker to put that ivory-coated knowledge harvest to the test?

Jon writes:

So, anyway, I want to harvest some of these connections. At first I thought I'd contact the person I knew, tell them who I was looking for and ask them to search the name and find the 2nd degree connection. A little awkward and time consuming (for the person I'm asking the favor). Yeah, so then I see the "Get Introduced Through A Connection" link. I choose my connection, then:

He continues...

My question is this... What happens, how does this work?

I hit send, a message goes to you. Do you only see my note to you - or the message to X (Leslie B. in this example) as well? And what about the person you know, who knows Leslie? How is that connection made? Automatically - or do you have to find the connection for me? Do they see my message to you, my message to Leslie?

The hypothetical scenarios go on for a few more paragraphs before the logic is tortured right out of the motivation for getting to the actual conversation stages -- the linking out phase of the process. I appreciate these questions because they underscore the associative clunk factor of shuffling through an overloaded circuit of lateral connectors.

The community spirit of pay-it-forward reciprocity might work for random acts of kindness. But maybe not so much for calculating and indiscriminate emails -- especially from people we know more for their degree of separation than we do about them. Period.

The artifice of the social media back-scratch points to the exit ramp or the link-out. This is the realization that as gorgeous as that well-groomed garden is, all the growth happens within the narrow confines of It is a walled in garden. That's why a thousand Facebook weeds makes more advertising perfume than the most painstaking bouquet of freshly cut resumes at LinkedIn.

You need to step on a few weeds, maybe even some poisonous ones before any meaningful conversations can happen. That's where a nose for research meets an eye for opportunity and an ear for discussion. That kind of growth can only happen in soils and climates where the greatest variety of vegetation takes root.

If I didn't answer your question, Jon, that may be because six years and 750 connections later, I still haven't plunked down $24.99 a month to find the answers.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.