LinkSpam: The failure of traditional social networking models

Every so often I receive an unsolicited connection request on LinkedIn, usually from someone overseas who seeks connections in the United States. That’s not too bothersome because I can at least understand their motivation for connecting, and, frankly, as a businessperson, I can appreciate their attempts to extend their professional network. Typically I reject the connection and will instead invite the sender to communicate with me about their needs and interests.

This morning, however, I received an invitation to connect from another Yahoo 360 user, someone who from all appearances has only one thing in common with me: we’re both using Yahoo 360 in some manner.

In general, I expect that anyone I don’t know who is genuinely seeking to connect with me either socially or professionally will have taken at least a few seconds to write a personal message, even “Saw you speak, and I’d love to connect” or “You have funny blog entries, we should network!” Fishermen know this and you’ll rarely see someone tossing out a hook without some bait or a fly appropriate for the fish they’re seeking to catch.

Maybe I’m becoming a bit of a curmudgeon too, but I don’t really have much interest in connecting socially through computer networks. I have my family, my circle of friends, and my colleagues who have become a secondary circle of friends. That plus work and play account for just about every waking minute of my life at this point, so why would I want to make new pals in far distant locations? (Definitely not friendster material, eh?)

Even if I were eager to connect with new people, there’s still a basic premise in both social and professional networking that having some interests or a friend in common is needed to serve as the starting point for our ostensible friendship. That’s just a basic psychology truism, I expect, and just as applicable in a social situation as a professional event.

In that light, this particular invitation is even more peculiar because I can’t even tell you the name of the person requesting the connection.
Have a look, you’ll see what I mean…

yahoo360 linkspam

Stripping out all the unusual characters and diacriticals, I believe it’s fair to refer to the person requesting the link as “Eric Generic”, but with a mini-iconography of a man with an assault rifle, a Napster logo, a “steal music” graphic and a soccer ball, what on earth does this person believe we have in common that encouraged him to request a link?

The answer is nothing.

In fact, I believe that this is a class of link requests — of linkspam — that we’re going to see crush a lot of the social networking sites. It’s too easy to search for some popular trait (like “gender: female”), parse and save the resulting matches, then automatically issue thousands of generic link requests. Indeed, “Eric” might well be aware of this when he chose the ironic handle of “Eric Generic”.

In any case, this is yet another testament to the value of more constrained social and professional networks where you can’t send or receive link or connection requests to anyone in the network, but are constrained to your circle of connections and one or two hops further. LinkedIn, for example, has millions of members, but I can only reach a small subset of them directly. Smart!

How about you? Have you received this kind of linkspam and what are your thoughts about its implications for the long-term success of social and professional networking systems?

One comment on “LinkSpam: The failure of traditional social networking models

  1. Many people seem to be proclaiming the death of Social Networks because of spam, mainstream/corporate adoption or the huge number of them springing up recently.
    I have to agree with you that many of the early social networks (mySpace, Friendster, etc) have the failure that you end up with a huge “friends” list of people who can have nothing in common with you.
    I believe the social networks that will be successful in the future are the ones which will provide a specific purpose. These purposes will either be the ability to help you network with very specific or niche groups of people. Or they will offer specific tools/facilities which will be genuinely useful to the users of the network.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *