Removal of functionality significantly reduces service’s value for majority of users.
Apparently, LinkedIn’s new slogan adopted yesterday is: “Your Business Anti-Social Network.”
Once upon a time, LinkedIn was all about business networking, whether or not you could afford its pricey premium service (which only recruiters or HR people seemed to buy). It was perfect if you simply wished to use a social media service that was more business oriented than Facebook or where you could connect with folks formerly found in your Rolodex. For me, my public face is LinkedIn, while my Facebook account is hidden under a rock, right next to my “me wearing lampshade at party” snapshots. Basic users still had to look at advertisements, just like Facebook. It also developed communities, where volunteers or trade groups established virtual meeting places for like-minded professionals where they could exchange messages like business cards at an after-work networking gathering. Or, someone could reach out to these communities and ask for advice, and then perhaps follow up directly with the member giving the advice by clicking “send a message” on his or her profile. These communities (or “Groups”) also attracted many people to LinkedIn who would otherwise never consider joining.
The huge amount of Basic users made LinkedIn lots of money by it becoming one of the premier job posting sites, and made these users ideal targets for advertising. Now, that reality, usefulness and capability is diminishing every day. The company is now, seemingly, attempting to drive that important base of Basic users away by requiring them to pay for something they had received for free for years: messaging to Group members. The cheapest Premium monthly membership is $25 and provides only 3 “InMails.” According to an email I received from LinkedIn, the company only “allows you to take a group conversation and move it to a private one… but we did remove the link from the profile.” Group memberships have helped a myriad of job hunters ask a question of the hiring manager, or someone close, or simply ask if he or she received the email, and not rely on the Black Hole of HR. According to the email, we can only “reply privately” by “clicking under the member’s comment within a group discussion.” So, there’s no more networking with people unless they say something. The only method of free messaging remaining is going through somebody who knows somebody, or might know somebody, and hoping Kevin Bacon forwards it. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I think that worked twice for me in 5 years.
There has been quite a bit of talk about a forthcoming LinkedIn IPO (initial public offering). Before that even gets out of the gate, LinkedIn has starting slicing at its nose to spite its face. LinkedIn’s most recent profitable year was 2005, and is projecting another loss this year. So, is that what is driving the latest moves? Implementing the charging of users for any usable information or connecting with other members may not be too far off. If you read BNET’s “Hey, LinkedIn: Where Did Those Profitable Years Go?“ January 28 story, you might be thinking the same things I am. Only a bean counter would promote ideas that disenfranchise members, but that is exactly what LinkedIn is doing.
LinkedIn has been built by its members. There is no LinkedIn content whatsoever; it’s all been written by members, and mostly Basic members. That leads to another question: if it can’t make money without paying for content, then will it ever?
I’m wondering if potential investors will be as excited if they realized LinkedIn is removing functionality and is heading towards a completely paid model that will simply chase away the vast majority of users, as Ecademy did years ago. Once Basic users abandon the site, the usefulness of the service to Premium members and value to advertisers will quickly erode. CEO Jeff Weiner may soon be looking for another job. He was EVP at Yahoo, and apparently helped drive that company into mediocrity.
As of yesterday, members of groups can no longer message other members without buying a premium membership. Members cannot even contact the group owner for free! I often did that to report spammers; now, the spammers can take over. Messaging to fellow Group members was present from Day One, and could be controlled by users if they didn’t want to receive such messages. This ill-advised decision changes the usefulness for many, many members, including me. Along with being an obvious attempt at a money grab, this is a huge blow to job seekers and small business people who use the site for business development. I, for one, have added many people to my network from introductions received (and a few sent) via groups. Now, these groups are close to meaningless.
Previously, I could send a message to almost everyone in any group I belonged to, except for the very few people who had that function turned off. The gold box for group members had previously read “send a message.” Now, the only option is to ask the member to become part of your network. Since people should think of their network as something that reflects on themselves (as goes the LinkedIn corporate gospel), becoming part of someone’s network is usually not that easy. Personally, I am quite selective. So, using that button is not the answer.
UPDATE December 6, 2012: LinkedIn apparently, and very quietly, restored this functionality at some point, but it is hidden. You must go to the group, then the list of group members. Off to the right side beside their names you’ll see “Connect” or “Send a Message.” Beats me why this is not on profile pages if both members share a group.
Also, a few weeks ago, the last names of people found in searches were truncated to just initials. Another recent change: many groups converted to being “open,” which only resulted in many being havens for spam. What’s next?
While researching this blog entry, I discovered that group managers have been barred from accessing their members’ email addresses, which is ridiculous. Again, this suggests that LinkedIn will be forcing the paid model: if group managers don’t have access to this information, they will not be able to take their member list elsewhere. Door64.com addresses that here: LinkedIn Groups and Shooting Yourself in the Foot.
You may also be interested in this result of a new poll now under way: 87% of LinkedIn users will stop using the service if forced to pay. See the poll here: http://linkd.in/enSPjc (accessible when logged into LinkedIn); a summary is below.
As one voter on the poll commented: “The value of Linked In is inextricably linked to the breadth of the user base. Surely creating a walled/paid for environment will ultimately limit the reach and, in turn, devalue their offering.”
Another extremely valid comment left by a voter: “Anyone going for the paid-subscription model for a social networking site has little common sense, and even less understanding of how fickle Internet users are… It would take Facebook a few weeks to come up with a valid alternative using their existing customer base and then hey presto, goodbye Linkedin.” Actually, I thought the same thing about Facebook while writing this article. They’d love for LinkedIn to fall on its face so they could pick up the pieces.
LinkedIn may well be the next meaningless MySpace.
Let’s hope this isn’t true. C’mon LinkedIn, open things up again to prove I’m reading my tea leaves wrong.
UPDATE March 3, 2011: Apparently, I’ve been reading the tea leaves just fine. Users today are getting incensed that LinkedIn is now, as of March 2, barring any Basic user from seeing more than 10 or 15 of their last incoming or outgoing messages without getting out their credit cards. LinkedIn is now pretty much useless, except as a database for recruiters.
UPDATE March 23, 2011: LinkedIn seems to have backed off its requirement that members pay to see older messages, perhaps due to an outcry. The banner that blocked these messages has been removed. Unfortunately, the other restrictions remain.