The LinkedIn dilemma

Here's what stopped me from writing an endorsement for somebody on LinkedIn today: the requirement to define our relationship as one of these choices:

The same kind of thing stopped me from joining the identity-badge party at the Digital ID conference recently. I'm bugged by forms that invite or require me to specify the unspecifiable. Particularly when Google already knows the subtle truth of the matter. For example, the signup for nTag asked me to state my interests. But I already do that all the time. Everything I write is a statement of my interest in something. Should it be my job to fit those interests into the Procrustean bed of somebody else's form?

Ditto for LinkedIn. The sum of my relationship with "R." is: 1) he wrote some cool software that I tried and wrote about, and 2) we had an exchange, more recently, in the comments area of a website. And guess what? When I google for "R.'s" last name and mine, the first two hits correspond exactly to those two points. If there were a freeform input box, I'd have simply entered the query.

Now clearly I lead a much more public life than most, and I create a much more complete document trail for Google to follow. But is that a difference in degree, or a difference in kind? I suspect the former. And if that's true, then I'm skeptical as to the benefit of a parochial reputation system such as LinkedIn, which requires extra effort to join, to feed with metadata, and to use. If we have (or are rapidly evolving) a global reputation system that can absorb and contextualize our routine communication, then parochial systems will need to deliver huge amounts of extra value.

I'm well aware that not everybody can or should spill vast quantities of words onto the Web. On the other hand, I think it will make less and less sense to operate in stealth mode. Most "knowledge workers" will want to plug into the public conversation at certain points -- to promote our activities, to discuss and collaborate, to seek information. So you drop a stone in the pond, and ripples go out, and reflections ripple back. Do we need more than this, really?

I understand the impulse to codify social protocols in software. I'm not at all sure we can do it in ways that preserve the necessary fluidity and fuzziness. But there's VC money in them thar hills, so I guess we're going to do the experiment and find out.

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