20 July 2009

The Problem with Groups on LinkedIn

Like a lot of other people, I have signed up with LinkedIn in order to manage my professional contacts. Overall, I think that LinkedIn is a good service (as long as one carefully manages one's privacy, that is...). Overall, I would say that the vast majority of all of the email that I have received that came about as a result of my LinkedIn account has been worthwhile for me to read.

However, with the introduction of a new feature, LinkedIn has put my overall goodwill towards this service in a precarious place. This new feature is the LinkedIn "Groups" feature.

At first, LinkedIn Groups seemed like a good idea: give people who are part of the same logical group the ability to network. So, for example, alumni from a certain university can join a LinkedIn Group. Most of the people who are part of this "group" have never interacted professionally, but because they're part of a group now they can more easily connect. Okay so far....

The problem is that, as the size of the group grows, the probability that the group will grow to include people you never want to hear from also grows. Guess what? This is already starting to happen in LinkedIn Groups.

So, for example, if you join a LinkedIn Group devoted to the the university that you happened to graduate from, at some point in the future some loser/spammer can also join that group. At this point, because you are part of the same LinkedIn Group, this loser/spammer can send email to the ENTIRE group. There is apparently very little in LinkedIn to guard against this sort of abuse.

Before the introduction of the LinkedIn Groups feature, this sort of behavior wasn't really possible. I mean, you could get spammed by some co-worker who you knew at some previous job, but at this point you could just disconnect from this in-duh-vidual and be done with the problem. This isn't really possible with LinkedIn Groups -- either you're all in or your not.

I predict that LinkedIn is going to have to deal with a LOT of this sort of abuse in the future. I do hope that LinkedIn introduces some sort of moderation system, controlled by the users themselves. It'd be nice to hear that some loser got his LinkedIn account yanked because some threshhold of regular users deemed his/her mail to be spam.

In the meanwhile, the one thing that I've done to fix this problem for myself is to configure my LinkedIn preferences to send me "Group" updates no more often than once a week. This makes the spammers much easier to deal with.

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