How Linked-in forces awkward social interactions

Here’s a little walkthrough of the Linked-in user experience:

1. When you register, it encourages you to add weak links to your network.
It does this by trying to get you to add your entire address book to join your network (as shown below). I don’t know about you, but many of the people I have in my address book are “weak links” – people I only sort-of-know.
Linked-in import

2. Even if you dont fall for the trap, people you sort-of-know will.
So you end up with a mix of strong links (close friends and colleagues) and weak links (people you have met a couple of times, or have only ever had email contact with).

3. One of your contacts requests an introduction with someone you don’t know, but one of your weak links does.
Linked-in allows your contacts to request “an introduction” with not just people on your network, but people they know. So if you’ve never met Bill Gates, but one of your weak links knows him, another of your contacts could ask you to ask your weak link to introduce them.

4. You are given two options: “forward” or “decline”
This chain of vague association would probably make you feel a little awkward at this point. If you go ahead with it, you’d could find yourself saying “I know you don’t know me that well, but this other person I don’t know that well wants me to introduce you to someone you are linked to”. What if you don’t want to do this? Is there a polite way of getting out of this situation?

linked-in usability

Basically linked-in shows you two buttons (as above), which force you to make a choice. The problem is that this is so black and white. You are either actively helping, or you are actively blocking. In a face-to-face conversation, you might change the subject, or be non-committal – “I’ll see what I can do”. The requester might then realise you don’t feel hugely comfortable about it and drop the subject. Also, with voicemail or email, one of your options is inaction. You can postpone indefinitely. Basically, in the “real world”, there are many shades of grey, and both parties have many options to avoid socially awkward interactions.

But in the Linked-in world, their system forces you into a direct confrontation. You can end up saying to yourself “I feel awkward about forwarding, I feel awkward about declining”

5. If you ignore the email, linked-in keeps hassling you
So Linked-in now sends you a reminder email again, and again, and again. How very, very annoying.

Here’s what Linked in should do to sort this mess out:

  • Don’t allow people to add their entire Outlook contact list. If they must offer this feature, they should add a step where the user is encouraged to remove the weak links. Weak links dilute your network.
  • Allow users to set their chain length. I personally would only want chains of 3 (a friend asks me to introduce them to another friend). Other users might be happy with 4.
  • Don’t force direct confrontations: Allow people to gracefully ignore or “sidestep” thorny requests.
  • One reminder email is enough. Two is nagging. three is ridiculous.

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