I’m usually quite a proponent of LinkedIn, as readers of my weblog are aware, but I find it quite fascinating that the desire to have the LinkedIn site ranked highly in an influential BusinessWeek Best Of the Web poll is showing a bit of the seamy underbelly of online networking.
Four times in the past week I’ve received email from one of my LinkedIn connections asking me to pop over to the BusinessWeek poll and vote for LinkedIn to help it rank well in the results. The intention is splendid and the slightly questionable tactic of trying to either (depending on your viewpoint) encourage voter turnout or stuff the virtual ballot boxes is no different from many of the other nominated sites posting “vote for us” articles too (even Om Malik, one of my touchstones for professionalism in the business blog space, couldn’t resist when he added Vote for GigaOM to his weblog).
Ordinarily, receiving four messages like this in the never-ending tsunami of email I get every day wouldn’t be worthy of note, but I find it quite fascinating that the desire to help market a digital venue overcomes the otherwise good judgment of the people from whom I received these messages.
None of them, however, addressed the question of whether it’s fair to ask me to vote if I haven’t already figured out that there’s a competition and cast my vote (in fact, I already had done so). Perhaps it’s not really an ethical issue at all, but I have heard from colleagues at BusinessWeek that they’ve already seen lots of ballot stuffing and had to deal with sorting legit votes from robots, among other things.
No surprise there.
Indeed, with blog comment spam tools available that can create random IP addresses to sidestep blacklist tools, it seems like it would be easy to build a “voter bot” for the poll and completely invalidate the results.
But that’s not what I want to consider here, that’s just a simple matter of cobbling some pieces together and subverting things to meet your own curious view of reality.
I’m reading a splendid book right now called The Virtual Handshake and also talking with a publisher about contributing to a book on professional networking in the virtual world, and one question that keeps coming up is How is LinkedIn any different from the dozens of other networking sites out there?
My answer has always been “because it’s 100% focused on professional business networking and because all the communications I’ve received from my connections have been focused and relevant.” But now I can’t say that. Now I’ve received spam from trusted digital colleagues, people who I thought were more focused on creating win:win scenarios for us.
Maybe having LinkedIn win the vote in its category at BusinessWeek would produce a win:win situation, but I’m afraid it’s not really that much of a step from “make sure you vote for LinkedIn” to “please link to my site so I’ll get more clients and can send some your way” to “please sign this initiative to impeach Bush”.
But maybe it’s the end of a long weekend and I’ve had other things on my mind, what with the post-Katrina fiasco in Louisiana and the fourth anniversary of 9/11. What do you think, dear reader?