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December 12, 2003


Kevin Werbach

Yes, it does automatically send invitations to everyone in your contact list. It's a new "feature" that LinkedIn just added. Unlike Spoke, LinkedIn doesn't automatically extract your data from Outlook or email; you need to manually upload an exported contacts file. But it comes to the same thing.

The issue that is quickly arising with these services is that they don't generally weigh the strength of ties other than on the basis of "distance" (number of connections away). And as you point out, a connection just means someone has your email address in their Outlook.

I got a request through Spoke yesterday from someone who wanted to reach Paul Krugman, the NY Times columnist. I forwarded it on, since I knew both the originator and the next person in the chain, and it was a reasonable request. The next guy wrote back to both of us saying that, in fact, his link to Krugman was that he once emailed him a comment on an op-ed. Krugman never responded. Not exactly a "trusted connection."

At some point, these services will probably need to add a checkbox for "do I actually know this individual personally." There are far too many ways to get email addresses that don't pass that test.

Oliver Thylmann

As Kevin said, you can upload your data automatically and then everybody just gets mailed. I actually am feeling that this is a bad feature. For friendster.com I can see that you should just get everyone in but for LinkedIn, it might be an idea to only get your business connections and your close connections in there.

The thing is that you can easily invite people one by one or at least by group and write some special note.

If only thing would be possible, the system would grow slower but you would have less of a problem with the things that Kevin talked about as you would have close connections in there for the most of them.

To extend Kevin's idea, you can simply make a few categories.

- work relationship in same company
- work relationship across companies
- studies
- close friend
- acquaintance


Of course, LinkedIn tries to do that with the recommondations you can give to people but it's not the same thing.

Oliver Thylmann

Konstantin Guericke

I'd like to correct the information posted here. LinkedIn does not and never has automatically invited everybody when you are using our "connection discovery function"--anybody who used it should know that.

We added this function because many people wanted to connect with people they know, but found it tedious to search for them one name at a time. Also, it was a catch-22 since nobody can tell from a name search who is a member of LinkedIn since nobody's network encompasses all LinkedIn users (the average user has access to 12% of LinkedIn users). The situation was particularly awkward for people who read about us in the press (and there have been many of those), but who had not yet received an invitation. Most of them have a strong connection to some LinkedIn user, but since they have no conntection, their network is limited to the 9% of users who have chosen to be contactable without referral.

So, that is the purpose of the feature. When you use it, you can see in your address book who is already a member of LinkedIn and you can choose to invite them--the invitation process is the same as before. You can customize the inviation text, etc. Also, you can remove any addresses you want after the upload.

I also want to stress that we don't mine email archives for contacts and then in the background upload all of them without your explicit review and approval. Also, we don't auto-create relationships just because you were once cc'd on the same message or had a go-around with a tech support person. Unlike others, we also don't upload the subject lines of your email headers.

Everything in LinkedIn is about explicit participation, user control and effectiveness of referrals.

Pierre, I won't dispute that I also haven't received more invitations from people that I don't know very well because now more people are finding me. However, it is easy to decline or ignore a connection request. And everyone who you receive an invitation from already has your email address. We don't allow people to invite you who can't already send you email though we also are seeing a fair number of people using the request system to request the latest contact info from someone they know well, but lost touch with, so we have to strike a good balance here.

We do encourage users to not accept every invitation to connect and point out right in the inviation email that a connection on LinkedIn is not just a random link, but that the referral system means that you sooner or later will be asked to recommend the inviter to someone else about whose relationship you care.

For everyone's info, here is the info we append to every connection request:

1. You will be able to find and reach professionals in Andy's network via referral by Andy
2. You may receive requests that Andy refers on to you from people that Andy knows and who Andy thinks have something to offer to you or your company
3. Andy will be able to request referrals from you to people in your network; you will have a chance to accept or decline (even anonymously) any request Andy sends you before forwarding it on to another Connection
4. People you know may request to get in touch with Andy; you will have a chance to accept or decline (even anonymously) any request your connection sends you before forwarding it on to Andy
5. You will appear on Andy's Connections List, and Andy will appear on your Connections List
6. When viewing Andy's profile, your Connections (but no other LinkedIn users) will see that you and Andy are connected
7. You and Andy will be able to publicly endorse each other's work

Matt Cohler

I'd just like to reiterate Konstantin's main point. Our new contact list upload tool and Address Book features never, ever result in automatic invitations or any other automatic emails to the people who are uploaded from the contact list. Every invitation that is sent, every email that goes out, still occurs because a user has explicitly selected the individual person receiving the invitation.

Thanks for pointing out the confusion on this subject -- clearly we have some work to do on messaging here.

Pierre Omidyar

Konstantin, thanks for the corrections. The feature is a good idea, I can see that -- but it has unintended consequences. And since the text of the invitations I receive always seem to be the default text, it feels automated. Probably that's a poor reflection on the people requesting a connection to me, not willing to take the trouble to write a personal note -- that should tell me something about that person, I suppose.

You say it's easy to decline or ignore an invitation -- I agree, it's easy from a user interface point of view. The site is clean and nice and snappy, too, so it's not at all frustrating to use. The problem is more of an emotional one. For instance, I have had no trouble declining invitations I receive from people I don't know -- I just click on the "I don't know this person well enough" button and move on.

There are, however, people that I *do* know, that I would rather not be directly connected to, because I don't want to accept the seven conditions you just described for that particular person. If you can figure out a way for me to decline that sort of invitation without hurting someone's feelings, or without feeling guilty myself, that would be great. Maybe that's what the mysterious "I'm not adding connections right now" reason means. (What, "I only add connections every second Wednesday"?)

Or maybe you need the pocket-veto thing the President has -- if I understand correctly, by not signing a bill before the Congressional session expires, it effectively does not become a law. It's just like a veto, except less in-your-face. So maybe invitations, endorsement requests, etc., should expire after 30 days or something.

I find all of this very interesting, because we're trying to wrap a technical, logical structure around the messiness of human relationships. Your job, Konstantin and the rest of the folks at LinkedIn, is not an easy one. Every good idea usually has negative implications, it seems. That's because there is no single, logical description of what it means to be human, and how we interact with one another.

That, of course, is the wonderful thing about being human. That diversity is also key to how we can work together more effectively to make good things happen. It also means we generally don't like being put in little boxes, which seems to be an unavoidable consequence of these technology-assisted social networks. That's not to say they're all bad, of course -- just that we need to be reminded that these are real people, with real issues and emotions as well as logical functions.

By the way, I'm a little less grumpy today. Sorry about growling yesterday. :-)

Stewart Butterfield

Matt & Konstantin - you guys have *so* much data (potentially) available: how many of a given user's connections were initiated by that user (as opposed to incoming requests), how many connection requests they received in the last week, how many people they've turned down, etc., etc.

It should be relatively easy to build an index of how beleaguered someone is and then *strongly* recommend, in bold red text, that someone not request a connection of them unless they really, really know them. The worst thing for Linkedin would be to have the most valuable users depart.

Another approach might be a user-defined level below which others should not request to add them as a contact. E.g., do not request to add me as a contact unless you know my home phone number or the names of my children, etc.

Kevin Werbach

Looks like, as Konstantin pointed out, my description of the LinkedIn address book uploading feature was inaccurate. Based on the number of generic LinkedIn requests I received recently, I assumed it auto-uploads vs. requiring manual invitations. (I attempted to try it myself, but it didn't work -- for some reason it couldn't read my comma-delimited text file.) As Pierre notes, there is still a problem here, but in LinkedIn's case, less so than I thought.

Christopher Allen

I wrote a long posting called "Evaluation of Social Network Services" in my blog


I quoted from this blog entry at the latest entry on my blog at "Followup to 'Evaluation
of Social Network Services'":


-- Christopher Allen

Tim O'Reilly

I want to second Pierre's distaste for the automated connection request messages. I haven't gone so far as to refuse people who don't personalize, if I know them well enough, but I sure don't like it.

The outlook compare feature is actually a good one (though it would be nice if it supported Mac OS X's Address Book as well as Outlook), since it lets you know which of your contacts are members, but it's no excuse for what is, after all, a kind of spam. If you aren't willing to take the time to write a personal note, why should the person you're trying to reach take the time to respond? Especially if they are a high visibility person.

Pierre Omidyar

Thanks for the comment, Tim. Seems like common courtesy to me -- we haven't found technology to replace that yet, it seems. Good thing.

Val Pishva

I find it quite interesting to view how these category of social applications are evolving in the context of the natural ways humans are inclined to manage their social networks. For instance, much evolutionary theory points to the fact that our cognitive capabilities are best at managing social networks of not more than 200 individuals, since this is the ancestral environment in which we evolved. In addition, referals of more than 2 degrees degrade significantly in "marriage referal value" among primitive tribes and may degrade the reputation of the last person in the chain. Thus a better perspective might be to use such tools to turn second degree contacts into first degree ones and slowly move through the network by repeating this step. Adding communities of interest might also help (but, for instance, even though Pierre and I have the same ethnic background, Alma Mater, and his father used to work with my uncle at a hospital, this puts me in no better position in "tapping" him for my network). I think that, just as Icosystems applies insight into insect socialization/evolution to system level optimization issues, social networking sites might benefit from the large amount of research that has been conducted in the fields of human evolution and cognitive psychology.

Jon Lebkowsky

I don't find much value in contacts beyond second degree, unless I've already met them and the indirect link reinforces the connection, in which case it might become first-degree.

Re. LinkedIn's new file upload capability, I tried it so that I could select a small subset of my first-degree contacts and invite them to LinkedIn, as an experiment (since I haven't used LinkedIn for much so far). It appeared to me that more people were invited than I'd checked. That could've been operator error.

The idea that you can 'build social networks' through through various automated functionalities is probably fallacious. My sense is that those of us who use social network sites at all use them to communicate with and keep track of members of our existing social networks. The tools provided for creating new connections, like Ryze's guestbook, probably don't produce much of a result. A sales call still feels like a sales call, regardless of context.

Cory Doctorow just wrote something relevant to this discussion:

"I have a special request to the toolmakers of 2004: stop making tools that magnify and multilply awkward social situations ("A total stranger asserts that he is your friend: click here to tell a reassuring lie; click here to break his heart!") ("Someone you don't know very well has invited you to a party: click here to advertise whether or not you'll be there!") ("A 'friend' has exposed your location, down to the meter, on a map of people in his social network, using this keen new location-description protocol -- on the same day that you announced that you were leaving town for a week!"). I don't need more "tools" like that, thank you very much." (http://www.diepunyhumans.com/archives/006847.html)

Pierre Omidyar

Thanks all for the good discussion.

I removed an off-topic comment relating to my personal background. For the most extensive information published on my background, see Adam Cohen's The Perfect Store.

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