Can LinkedIn be saved?

[Update: 11/27/2015. More changes have been made to the back end. It has become more Facebook than ever before. The “Promotion” tab is gone, so discussions can no longer be parsed. “Follow” is lost or gone — comment on a piece and you may or not be alerted to additional comments — no more e-mail alerts, even if one is a group owner.]

When LinkedIn launched, in 2003, it was a members only club. You couldn’t simply join. You had to be invited by one of the earliest members.

It was private, exclusive and entirely professional. Doesn’t sound much like today’s LinkedIn, does it?

I’ve been a LI member from nearly the start and I’ve seen quite a few transformations and confusing changes.

However, the first truly bizarre thing that seemed to go wrong was the creation of “open groups.” That was the polar opposite of LinkedIn’s “exclusive” roots, a place strictly for professionals, to privately connect on an entirely professional level.

Oops.

Open groups meant that anyone who came upon an open group’s discussion online, in any venue, could comment … and join in.

Oh yeah … once a group owner changed their group to an open group, they could never change it back to private. Ever.

Why would LinkedIn’s management do something so contrary to an exclusive online forum? Take a look at that photo up there. They were getting ready for their IPO and therefore wanted to significantly increase membership to increase “valuation.”

It appeared, to nearly everyone, that LinkedIn was desperate to catch up to Facebook, which had come along later, and had pretty much left them in the dust.

So, without consulting existing members, LI management elected to succumb to the social media circus they had previously avoided, and then abandoned the “professional networking” niche they had created.

LinkedIn had become open — to anyone and everyone.

This just in from LinkedIn (09/22/2015):
All Groups Are Now Private Groups
Our research has shown that professional conversations are most effective in a private trusted space, so conversations in groups won’t be visible until you’ve joined the group.
All Groups Are Now Members-Only Groups
Joining a LinkedIn group now requires either an invitation or approval of your request. Our data has shown that open groups have historically attracted a larger percentage of low-quality conversations. Members-only groups have created significantly more participation and conversations than others (up to five times more), indicating that members feel more confident contributing in these types of groups.

We, the members, know the difference between LI and FB — why doesn’t management? (Well, they probably do, but care more about profitability …)

Another LinkedIn faut pas was eliminating the search function. You can go to one of your groups, but you can no longer search through discussions. Hmm … why would they do that, do you think?

Want another? How about: LinkedIn ‘asks permission’ to access your address book. Say ‘yes’ and it automatically selects everyone, and sends connection requests to everyone you’ve ever known, some of whom you might cross the street to avoid.

Even professional trainers on how to use LinkedIn advise getting prospects off of LinkedIn as fast as possible.

Quantity not quality.

Today, despite LI being U.S.-based (and technically in English) everyone, everywhere, is hopping on-board … from all over the world. (Including Nigerian princes looking for long-lost relatives ... yep.)

Group owners universally bemoan the fact that no one looks at a group’s profile or rules before clicking the “join” button. And LinkedIn has made things much, much worse by recommending groups to new members who have no business being there.

And even when people are appropriate candidates for a group, how can you possibly have any kind of quality discussion about professional matters when a group exceeds 100,000 members?

The inevitable side-effect is that more and more “requests for connection” are from people who only want to sell us something … or scam us … they’re less and less often coming from true, professional networkers who merely want to connect.

Falling off the edge of the world.

So,” you may fairly ask, “if there are more than 100,000 members in a single group, doesn't that mean LI is a success?

Alas, no. Because groups have grown that large only because LI abandoned its original purpose and format. Because LI is no longer a truly professional forum. Because they’re actively trying to get as many people as possible to join rather than limit membership to true professionals, as they did when they started.

Am I speaking from experience? You bet. I was one of the earliest members (#159959) and I own several groups which I created several years ago.

We’re constantly bombarded with inappropriate requests for membership in my groups from every corner of the world — which matters because it often means the applicants don’t speak English — and frequently by appallingly unprofessional applicants.

I asked one of those applicants — who could barely write in English and whose profile was in another language — why she had requested membership in our English-only group? She replied, “LinkedIn recommended it.

What planet are we on?

One of the latest “upgrades” is not being able to edit our posts. Odd, eh? (Want to edit? You’ll have to copy your post, then delete it, then paste in your post into a new “comment,” and then edit it before making it live again.)

LI is also trying to grow its membership at faster and faster rates by encouraging (begging for) the sharing of one’s contact list, connections, etc. And it’s also recommending groups to new members, as opposed to the original approach of allowing members to search for relevant groups themselves.

Example: with the latest and greatest LinkedIn algorithms, anyone who joins and has “writer” anywhere on their profile, in any language, is urged to join all writers’ groups, even “English-only, professional experience required,” writers’ groups.

Naturally, that brings down the quality of discussions, the quality of group membership, and the quality and value of LinkedIn itself.

That is not the LinkedIn I joined.

And it’s why I frequently think about closing down my groups and quitting LinkedIn.

We need the original LinkedIn, more than ever.

In this day and age we really need the original LinkedIn, not the “new, improved” version.

Yes, change is often inevitable. And, yes, the Internet is still in its infancy. (We’re still changing its diapers. Just look at the J.P. Morgan Chase fiasco.)

A great many people and corporations jump on the online bandwagon without understanding why they’re doing it, and with only the thought: “because everyone else is.” That has created its own set of problems. (Such as posting a family photo that later showed up in an ad half-way around the world …)

Job hunting or networking?

Oddly, LinkedIn still treats new members exactly as it did in its early days. Start creating a profile and you’re guided through completing what will look just like a job-hunting résumé … if you follow their dictates.

However, it’s nothing like its original self when you start to use it. It has become a free-for-all. A giant circus tent. A cross-section of humanity that boggles the mind when one knows what it used to be. Fewer and fewer members of what was originally “a professional network” are true professionals.

Everyone now complains of junk e-mails and spam that are the result of accepting connection requests from people they don’t know. Everyone is becoming more cautious, less trusting, less open, and less interested in participating.

I feel sorry for those who never experienced the original. That was truly a professional’s networking site. And it had real value.

Today, it’s a virtual amateur hour. And it’s clearly spinning out of control.

Can it be turned around? I doubt it. It’s just too late.