Connection Browsing and Reciprocity

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connectionsbrowse.gif One LinkedIn feature that has been the subject of some debate is the Connections Browse feature. In a nutshell, Connections Browse allows you to let your immediate connections see your list of immediate connections. LinkedIn describes it in more depth as follows:

Browsing Your Network

You can now get a better feeling for who is closest to you in your network.

Start by visiting the profile of a connection. If your friend or colleague allows it, you can see the people they are connected to. You can then quickly look through their profiles to find old friends or the contacts you need.

Right now, your connections list is hidden from your other connections. If you would like to allow your trusted friends and colleagues to browse your connections list, click here.

Why allow your friends and colleagues to browse your connections list?

  • You still control access to the connections linked through you
  • Only other connections can see your list — no one else in your network can see it
  • You can help particular connections find the people they need faster
  • You can help two of your connections meet each other
  • If you want, you can always hide your list again in the future

Click here to allow your trusted friends to browse your list of connections.

At first glance, it certainly may seem more “in the networking spirit” to allow connection browsing. However, people may choose not to allow connection browsing for any number of valid reasons. Some of the ones I’ve heard include:

  • Confidentiality of client or other relationships
  • Not wanting to readily display their competitors, even if they’re connected to them
  • Time constraints

The subject of the debate isn’t whether the feature should exist at all, or having a problem with people choosing not to open their networks for browsing for some legitimate reason. The issue is that some people feel that it’s “unfair” for people to turn off connection browsing of their own network, but still be able to browse other people’s networks. Some have suggested that people who turn off connection browsing univerally not be able to browse others’ networks, or that users should individually be able to disallow connection browsing from people who don’t have connection browsing enabled.

Let me start by saying that I don’t open my connections for browsing. The reason I don’t is because I already have more demands on my time for networking than I can handle. I don’t want to invite more, particularly in a way that I consider marginally beneficial. If other people want to browse and allow browsing – hey, great. No problem whatsoever with the concept – I just don’t have time to do it myself or support others doing it. So it really doesn’t matter to me if others in my network do or not.

That said, the whole idea of “I’m not going to open my connections for browsing to someone who won’t open theirs to me” is NOT reciprocity, except in some twisted, negative way. It’s basically the LinkedIn equivalent of “If you’re not going to share your ball with me, I’m not going to share mine with you.”

What – are we three years old? Come on.

People have all kinds of legitimate reasons for not sharing their networks. If you’re comfortable sharing yours, and if you feel it creates value for your network, and therefore for you, to do so, then by all means share it. What harm is done in sharing it with someone who doesn’t share theirs? Do you really need to “punish” them for not sharing theirs?

Reciprocity in a network context is about “paying it forward”, with the expectation that somehow, collectively, the network will give you returns far exceeding what you put in. If you take that down to the individual level and “keep score” with each individual person, that misses the whole point of networking.

Let’s consider a similar situation, and I think it will make it obvious how silly the whole idea is…

Let’s say that you’re a job-seeker, or perhaps a semi-retired executive. You have 30-50 hours a week to spend networking. You have the time to spend, say, an hour on the phone getting to know someone. One of those people you want to meet is an extremely busy executive. They have maybe 3-5 hours a week to spend networking. They tell you that they’d be happy to spend 15 minutes on the phone with you.

Are you going to refuse to meet with them because they can only give you 15 minutes while you’re able to put an hour or more into the relationship?

Of course not – that’s ludicrous. You can’t expect the same thing from everyone else that you expect from yourself. Everyone’s situation is unique.

It’s not good networking to withhold anything from certain people in your network simply because they choose not to reciprocate in the same way or at the same level. It doesn’t serve you in any way whatsoever – in fact, it makes you look petty. If allowing connection browsing works for you, then it works for you. Turn it on. Don’t worry about what others are doing with it – it’s none of your business.

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30 Comments

  1. I’m confused. Hasn’t this feature been available for a long time? I’ve been able to browse the list of my contacts contact ever since I could remember.

    What I am also confused about: Where did you come up with that network graphic? Is _that_ available from LinkedIn? I’ve been looking for something that would help me traverse my network in a more natural way.

  2. Yes, it’s been available for a long time. It’s just that a debate about it has resurfaced on one of the Yahoo Groups – several people voiced the opinion that they understand that people may not want to allow connection browsing, but that they shouldn’t be able to browse if they’re not willing to allow it. I’m just trying to build up a library of discussion of these kind of topics.

    Regarding that network graphic? It’s on this page.

    I haven’t had a chance to take a look at it yet, but I’m told that the recently-out-of-beta Visible Path has something like that. Also, I think Wallop does too – it was spun out of Microsoft and I know that the pre-beta versions of it had a visualization tool in it.

    Let me know if you check either of them out.

  3. I think this issue is the same as viewing profiles anonymously in Friendster. People would find it unfair for other people to view profiles secretly while being anonymous, thus preventing the status of being a ‘stalker’. The network solved it by making it impossible for people who view anonymously to know who’s been viewing them. It’s quick and fair solution that I can’t debate.

    Hank Jones
    Director Remodeling
    home remodeling Phoenix Experts

  4. Connection Browse is definitely a good feature of LInkedIn as it allows users to share their connections with others and their immediate contacts can browse through their list of connections. The advantage of this is that you are two degrees away from them and can get an introduction through one of those shared connections.

  5. I like the solution that Hank offered. For me, I really like being able to browse the second level connections that people I know have. Looking for an entry level job and not having many connections of my own leaves me on the outside looking in to many companies, but being able to see friends of friends that might be working in the company or know people that are makes it easier to me to network and get some connection.

    Chris
    Webmaster, GardenLightsGuru.com

  6. “I think this issue is the same as viewing profiles anonymously in Friendster. People would find it unfair for other people to view profiles secretly while being anonymous, thus preventing the status of being a ‘stalker’. The network solved it by making it impossible for people who view anonymously to know who’s been viewing them. It’s quick and fair solution that I can’t debate.”

    I agree just like in friendster facebook needs a feature like that as well.

  7. I think not knowing who has been viewing is the best thing thing that any of these social networks can offer, That’s how friendster lost its users, because they let everybody see who’s viewing you…so now it turned to a gaming site, never even informing that they will delete the blogs and pics…

  8. It’s a good thing that a person always has a choice to share or not to share his network. But considering joining a social media like facebook, you need to know that since its social media, you are sharing your personal information to others and others can have access to it. Though I agree, Facebook must have a feature to know who’s viewing your profile other than your friends.

  9. Private information really needs to be protected and I think this feature in networking is really a must. Data nowadays are very vital and confidential for companies against their competitors. One information leak, it can be a disaster.

  10. The advantage of this is that you are two degrees away from them and can get an introduction through one of those shared connections.

  11. I’m confused. Hasn’t this feature been available for a long time? I’ve been able to browse the list of my contacts contact ever since I could remember.

    • Yes, it’s been available a long time. The point of controversy is that some people think that everyone should have it turned on and don’t want to allow other people to browse their network who don’t do the same in return. My point is that that’s kind of childish and not really in your own best interest. It doesn’t really matter what other people do — allow it or not, based on your own needs.

  12. Wow…this really allows you to let your immediate connections see your list of immediate connections? i love this….wanna try it soon…

  13. I am also confused about: Where did you come up with that network graphic? Is _that_ available from LinkedIn? I’ve been looking for something that would help me traverse my network in a more natural way. | 😛

    • The network graphic isn’t functional — it just used to be a part of their little help popup up about connection browsing. I agree, some kind of visual tool integrated into LinkedIn would be cool

  14. does this work on many social sites like Facebook? But I am not into it since I’d rather keep my profile for myself for privacy purposes.Even this connection may be your true friends but still privacy is very much important. Allowing somebody to look at other peoples profile is like opening other peoples letter. I don’t know with some out there but I’d rather keep it for myself and so who my contacts are.

  15. It’s been time immemorial it was already there, it been there a longtime but the debate about it still goes on until now.But Facebook made something to end it up. You can have control over all your settings and that’s good.

  16. The network solved it by making it impossible for people who view anonymously to know who’s been viewing them. It’s quick and fair solution that I can’t debate.

  17. . The advantage of this is that you are two degrees away from them and can get an introduction through one of those shared connections.

  18. great post ! I just don’t have time to do it myself or support others doing it. So it really doesn’t matter to me if others in my network do or not.

  19. I think this issue is the same as viewing profiles anonymously in Friendster. People would find it unfair for other people to view profiles secretly while being anonymous.

  20. Well, sometimes u really have to be careful who you are connecting with…but in today’s situation, being secretive don’t act it anymore…you just have to get connected to almost anyone if you want to have great deal on your virtual business especially.

  21. I think, the “Browsing Your Network” feature would really be a helpful LinkedIn feature. now, it’s easier to know common contacts. Networking would really be well-utilized with this feature.

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