Some time last year, I was getting ready to head out to my stepson’s new apartment during rush-hour traffic. There’s one particular intersection along the way that is always extremely busy that time of day, so I decided to pull up Google Maps to see if there was a back way, and sure enough, it looked like there was (see right).
Now I did prepare by looking at the map, but I have a pretty good visual memory, and I don’t like to waste trees, so I didn’t bother to print anything out. I just memorized the street names, made a visual image in my head and figured I’d find it OK.
But I didn’t. After I’ve wasted a good ten minutes or so, I finally determine that there’s actually no way through, make my way back up to Anderson Mill Road, and wait it out at the intersection at 620. Pfft… so much for preparation.
I told the story to my stepson, who of course tells me that there’s not actually a way through there. I insist that it’s there on Google Maps, but he says, “They lied.”
So when I got back home, I decided to go back and figure out what went wrong. I zoomed in a little more (see right). I still didn’t see the problem. Do you? There’s a hint of it there, but I missed it.
So one more zoom, and now the problem becomes obvious:
There’s no connection! At a high level, the map told me there was a connection there, but there wasn’t. It wasn’t until I drilled down into the detail that I realized that it was merely an illusion. And I had wasted my time, misplanned, because of it.
So what does this have to do with LinkedIn?
I have always felt that a map was one of the best metaphors for LinkedIn. It’s a roadmap of the network of people and the relationships that connect us. And when I’m trying to go somewhere I’ve never been before, it’s the first place I turn to in order to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.
I know the roads around my home, but what about the ones where I’m going? What if one of those connections really isn’t there? I’ve made my plans counting on that connection. If it turns out it’s not real, it’s a waste of my time.
This is why so-called “light linking”, i.e., making permanent connections with people you don’t know at all, hurts everybody and devalues the network. It’s really not just about you and your practices — other people in your network are relying that when you say that you have a connection to someone, that you have a real, trusted relationship with them, and that you can add value to that introduction request because of the strength of that relationship.
While it’s only the practice of a very small number of people, the effects of it aren’t that noticeable. In fact, it can even seem to be beneficial, since connecting directly to just a couple of the super-connectors can open up the vast majority of the network for you to see and be seen.
But it doesn’t scale. What would happen if everyone in LinkedIn connected with everybody else? Absurd, of course, but if that happened, or even came close to happening, LinkedIn’s raison d’être would cease to exist.
Think of LinkedIn like a wiki-based map of relationships that other people are going to use to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. If you want to have it truly be of use to the other members of the network, you’re not really serving them by telling them that you can teleport them across town. Help build a useful map by being honest about what connections are there and which ones aren’t.