Eric Karjaluoto

I Want to Kill LinkedIn

I’m working on something ambitious. It’ll likely crash and burn—and not in a spectacular way. (I’m not that notable.) Rather, it’s the sort of thing that’ll probably lead me to bankruptcy and force me to get a day job. But, what the heck? I’m at a point in life at which foolish things are behind me. I’d like to get in a few kicks before the only one left is at the bucket.

Before I get to that, though, allow me to share my deep, passionate, and undying hatred for that network so many of us use—but often don’t know why.

It’s still a résumé site with social features bolted on (badly)

I received my first LinkedIn invite from my friend Ernest. I signed up, added my résumé, but couldn’t imagine ever coming back. For a long time I didn’t. LinkedIn remained a résumé site for a good while. Somewhere in the mid-aughts, it started to resemble a social network.

Users could post updates and others could comment on those updates. This all worked a little like my Mom’s ’65 Renault: occasionally. The site is unintuitive. Finding key content is difficult. You can’t edit/correct comments. And notifications are a joke. It’s sort of like LinkedIn’s brass decided they were successful enough to not bother trying.

It isn’t a professional network; it’s a tool made for recruiters

I have a lot of connections on LinkedIn, and every day I receive more requests. A lot of these are from people I don’t know—and never will. Instead, they’re from bogus accounts, desperate social climbers, and pseudo-spammers. (I particularly appreciate the ones who spam me within minutes of accepting their invites.)

Truth of the matter is that I’ve never established a single meaningful new connection on LinkedIn. And I know why. I’m not the core user—because I’m not a recruiter. For folks who are, LinkedIn must be the most amazing thing… like… ever! Sure, they pay to access the data, but at their fingertips are a treasure-trove of résumés and prospective candidates. I’m happy for their good fortune, but it’s still a tool for them, and not the rest of us.

Dark patterns abound

If you aren’t familiar with dark patterns, I urge you to give Dan Schlosser’s blog post a read. It’s both enlightening and maddening. Users often don’t do what we’d like them to. So, we’re often forced to redesign what we’ve built, to encourage certain actions. But, there’s a line, and LinkedIn crosses it.

There’s nothing wrong with LinkedIn’s management wanting to get lots of people to use their service. The way they do this is sneaky, though. They’ll do anything to get you to link your address book to their service. (If you choose not to, they continually attempt to trick you into doing so.) Once they have that info, they send automated messages without your knowledge, on your behalf.

Imagine someone stealing your address book, and calling everyone in it, saying you asked him to. How long would you keep such a friend?

Pay to play

You know what LinkedIn gets right? Its business model. The company has 414 million users and earned ~$2.94 billion last year. They seem to have the cashflow thing figured out.

LinkedIn built its success on people sharing their connections, but this is not a quid pro quo situation. In fact, establishing new connections—with folks you don’t know—kind of sucks, on LinkedIn. Let’s say you find someone new you want to reach out to, through the service. Reaching that person requires you to buy a plan (these start at ~$30/month). This is great for their business, as are their other toll booths, but shouldn’t the web be about people first?

Low fidelity

My next point isn’t LinkedIn’s fault, but they don’t do much to remedy this situation, either. Have you ever looked at the comments made on social media and wonder why people are so mean? I do. I’m particularly surprised by this when I know those who are posting those comments—and believe them to be fine people.

Text is a difficult medium. Even a minor rearrangement of words can completely change how they’re interpreted. Worse yet, readers tend to imbue passages with their own emotions. This leads to those weird moments in which you aren’t sure whether someone’s being funny or a jerk. Maybe this is a minor point, but I think it’s why I never even get close to a meaningful discussion on LinkedIn.

The dialogue there is about as sincere and meaningful as what you’ll find at a networking event for young entrepreneurs. Lots of people are talking, but little of this discussion leads to much.

The content sucks

I feel bad whenever I take the bait, and actually read content on Linkedin—because a large amount of it is pure shit. I lump this content into three categories of turds: shameless self-promotion, clickbait, inane busines-esque drivel. Lately, I even see folks highlighting their personal tragedies, in an attempt to get more visibility. (Classy.)

Part of this relates to the sorts of people attracted to LinkedIn. They want to get ahead, and it’s OK to be “ME! ME! ME!” on this network. That makes it no less off-putting, though. The part that I blame LinkedIn for, is the lack of any decent filtering mechanism. This results in a horrible signal to noise ratio: The vague inspirational quotes. The guy who posts every car he has for sale. The jerk who posts a selfie every time he gives to charity (because he’s such a good guy). Oh, brother.

Endorsements are a joke

Endorsements are a good idea that LinkedIn botched. Their system continually prompts users to endorse others. So, many do—even if they’ve never worked together (or even know one another). As a result, LinkedIn endorsements stand for nothing. Sure, a newbie might see the 300 endorsements you have for SEO, and think you’re the bees knees—but, few are that easy to trick.

It’s not just that LinkedIn endorsements stink. The bigger problem is that LinkedIn encourages engagement in a heavy-handed way. The closest analogy is forced-fun at a workplace. Sure, some will begrudgingly take part. These are only gestures that lack substance/meaning, though.

The wrong paradigm

You know how to succeed in business? Stop trying to make yourself good, and instead make someone else look good. Social media is still a new-ish medium, though, and such insights are lost on many. So, networks like LinkedIn become places to promote yourself, brag, and build your connection/follower count. This doesn’t translate to much in the real world, though.

Opportunities do arise as a result of one’s connectedness; but, it’s the nature of those connections that makes the difference. The way you strengthen a connection? You start with the other person. You offer help. You lend a hand. You make yourself useful. LinkedIn isn’t made for that, though. It’s a growth machine that’s helps you make a lot of noise—but does little to strengthen your connections to others.

Hubris? Maybe

I was an early LinkedIn user. Even still, though, I’ve gained almost nothing from being on that network. By this I mean that I can’t think of a single relationship that grew as a result of my participation. Maybe I should give it time, but, it’s been 14 years. Shouldn’t I, by now, be able to point to at least one benefit?

What’s the solution? There are likely many. Mine is a long-shot. Actually, it’s a foolish moonshot, and you’ll probably mock me for it. (Incidentally, I first mistyped “moonshot” as “moonshit.” A Freudian slip? Possibly.) I say that some of us ought to move on from LinkedIn, and build a professional network that’s actually good for users. We’re doing this, over at Officehours. Let me tell you a bit about our approach.

A mission first; a business second

Our mindset is completely different from most venture-backed startups. (After you read this, you might even consider us simplistic.) Our belief is that good things happen when you help others—and that everyone benefits from this sort of behavior. So, we’re building a tool to help people share their knowledge, and feel comfortable asking for help.

This isn’t the kind of mission that gets a VC all hot and sweaty. That’s OK—we’re not going that route anyway. Instead, we run a super low cost operation. To us, success is in building something that people benefit from—not in making a big pile of cash. Sure, we have ways to make a little money from this thing, but that’s not the part that interests us.

One-on-one instead of one-to-many

We’d never walk into a public place and insult people the way we do, online. But you only need to look at a few comments on YouTube, to realize how crummy people can be. This isn’t a technology problem; it’s a numbers problem. When folks think they’re speaking into a void—and can’t see the faces of those who’re listening—they tend to be more cavalier in what they say.

But, limit the conversation to just two people, and they tend to act like they normally would. That’s why we started Officehours with the notion of connecting two people (who might not know one another) for a brief, one-on-one conversation. And you know what? It works. Well, it’s not perfect, and it’s not operating at scale, but the talks are surprisingly enjoyable. In fact, most feel good after those talks—almost like they know one another a little. To me, that’s something special.

Opportunities, not obstacles

I think giving is like a boomerang: do something good, and it might come back to you. However, you need the right context for this sort of action to work. (Going on LinkedIn and offering to help random people would never work—because it’s not that sort of environment.) So, we need a whole new approach to a professional network. And that starts with the philosophy behind it.

We think the network should offer more than it takes. It should encourage you to meet new people, and build new relationships. It should help you find new jobs, and projects to collaborate on. It should work to encourage positive behavior between community members.

So, we don’t charge you to reach out to new people. In fact, our system makes it easy to contact others who are open to a conversation. Meanwhile, we’re adding ways to post content that’s beneficial—instead of frivolous or self-serving. And, we’re trying a bunch of weird things—like job posts you can comment on (so that there are fewer walls between people and opportunities).

Filtered streams

Content sharing is something we’ve had in the works for a few months, and we’re close to releasing our first take on this. This is no small thing to get right, and we probably haven’t. That said, a few parts of it seem to have potential. The problem we’re trying to solve here, is how to help you find useful information—without needing to make your way through so much noise.

We think the answer is in providing multiple means of sorting shared content. You can view posts from only those you follow (like Twitter), or access content by all users within a category (like Reddit). You can also subscribe to categories you’re interested in, to customize which content you see.

Moderated

We’re still a small community, and I’m kind of happy about that. Our size allows me to stay close to those who’re using the product, and learn from them. It also allows me to check every person who joins the service to ensure that they’re not spammers. I then ruthlessly prune out those who’re here for the wrong reasons. I do this because we feel that the spirit/quality of this community matters.

If something on Officehours isn’t working, or you need help, I’ll be the one who helps you. If it’s over my head, I’ll ask Eric Shelkie to look into the problem. Point being: the same people who’re building this thing are taking calls and shepherding the community’s development. This can’t last forever, so we’ll need to rely on community members who’re willing to lend us a hand.

A UX for you

There are no ads on Officehours. There are no sponsored posts. There are no unnecessary alerts. There are no prompts to do things you don’t want to do. There are no nudges to increase your profile strength to become an, “All-Star.” This is because such things weren’t there for your sake—and we think that’s kind of crummy.

Instead, we’re working to create a clean, simple, and distraction-free experience. Every feature, item, and design element we add is considered. The question we keep asking is, “how will this help our users?” not, “how will this help us?” Maybe this isn’t that big of a deal, but we think these sorts of decisions are really important.

We’ll screw up

We’re two guys, and we’re attempting to do something that larger/smarter teams have failed at. It’d be fair to say that we’re way out of our league. Plus, the product isn’t there, yet. We know that, and we’re working on it. I guess I’m saying that we’ll get lots wrong, but we’re going to give it everything we’ve got, anyway.

I have this theory about networks: it’s that you don’t so much make one. Instead, it’s like setting your house up for a party. The quality of the party isn’t in how nicely your tablecloth matches your napkins (although those are nice details). It’s found in the unique chemistry of the guests you invite.

So, I’m putting this out there as a sort of open invitation. If you believe that we deserve better tools. If you think a community is more important than creating excessive wealth for a small few. If you believe we all benefit by working collectively… I could go on, but you get what I’m saying.

We’re still early, but we’re trying to do something worthwhile. I hope you’ll join in our little party. And if you want to talk to me about any of this, I’m game.

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