Just what does it take to be “in” someone’s network on LinkedIn?
If you were around at the very beginning, that meant four degrees of connectivity.
For the longest time now it has meant three degrees of connectivity, and it appears that LinkedIn is flirting with just two.
And that’s a shame.
Here – let me go over how it’s worked, what seems to be coming, and actions you can take to continue benefiting from the system without having to pay for a premium membership.
The good old days…
Yes, way back you could see four levels of connectivity.
Take your third degree connections – and the people that connected to them – they were 4th degree connections.
I can’t say that I was a heavy user back then, but it appeared that the cut to three degrees was both pragmatic, and intentionally limiting. The pragmatic part was that calculating networks out to that 4th degree was probably much more compute intensive than we’d like to imagine. (Sure – I don’t know any details – I’m making an educated guess here)
But more realistically, the system was becoming a massive address book in that a very large percentage of the users had a network that contained almost everyone (Upwards of 90% of the total number of users). And if everybody is “in” the network, there’s almost no chance of getting people to pay for access to those outside of their networks, is there?-)
And that’s worked for quite a while now – the change to three degrees of connectivity happened in July 2005, and so for seven years (and some 97+% of all LinkedIn signups) it has been this way.
You’re in the center of your network, and the people you connect directly with are 1st degree connections.
The people your 1st degree connections connect to are 2nd degree connections, and the people they connect to are 3rd degree.
In addition, your network includes the people that are also members of every group you are a member of.
Everyone else – is outside your network.
Premium membership benefits
Except of course that it seems every time you look over your shoulder, you find another “benefit” of becoming a premium member. A while back it was access to the last names of those third degree connections.
And now it seems to be access to the details about those 3rd degree connections…
You see I received a connection invitation from Martin W, and as I only connect to people I both know and trust, I clicked through to see his profile – to refresh my memory. I realized he had commented on my blog a while back, but we haven’t corresponded in a bit.
But then I noticed – how come I couldn’t see his whole profile? There was this annoying message about his profile being available if only I paid for a premium account:
And that was unusual – he was a 3rd degree connection!?!
And notice the really odd part – there’s his personal “web” profile right there! (and notice he has a personalized link instead of the goofy default – make sure you follow these instructions and get your own link if you haven’t already)
Yes, that’s right – I can get all of his profile information by clicking on that link…
(And yes, I asked Martin for permission to use his name and profile information in this article – he’s a good guy;-)
Even less information
So then I started checking into the LinkedIn system to find out what sorts of rules applied to this need for an upgraded account.
I find some 3rd degree connections that are fully visible, and others that are restricted in this manner. I tried different combinations of getting to the profile to see if context mattered, and it might. I found Martin’s profile in a completely restricted manner:
And that’s off-putting – what do you mean this 3rd degree connection is private? What am I to believe?
What does LinkedIn Say?
So I set out in search of some revisionist documents from LinkedIn about the situation. These first two come from early in 2011:
And these match what you probably think about profile visibility… But then in January of 2012, they said:
Notice – it’s now explicit that you only get “condensed” views of the profiles of people outside your network…
And here’s what it looks like inside the search tool today:
Hey – catch that – I can’t see 3rd degree connections because in order to see people outside my network, I have to use a keyword in the search…
And the selector off to the right reinforces that message – those 3rd degree connections are mentioned right alongside “Everyone Else” – you know – the people outside my network.
It’s not unusual…
Sorry to make a music reference here, but this sort of behavior is rather common for LinkedIn, and also noted by Jason Alba. Funny how we both notice the same sorts of things happening at the same time.
As I said at the top of this article – this change is a shame…
The fix? I mentioned that way back at the top too – simply click through to the user’s public profile. If for some reason LinkedIn changes the view to keep you from seeing it (like on the Private version of Martin’s profile), just take the title and some information that is visible, place it inside quotes in your favorite search engine, and you should get right to the public profile – not many web pages are likely to mention a job title, company, and headline exactly like that. It’s worked every time I have tried.
To your continued success,