When best intentions turn into LinkedIn spam

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?

8 comments on “When best intentions turn into LinkedIn spam

  1. I must agree. I have been in this game way too long, and get annoyed with people who have just “found the net”, and want to push all of it’s buttons without reasonable respect for their peers.
    Where this really gets annoying, is where particularly with things like linked in, there are people whose primary method of expanding their LI personal network, is to pester co-members of discussion groups.
    These people don’t seem to realize that in a lot of instances, the same message has already emanated from several other sources.
    I already find for example monitoring blogs, and other rss feeds, that probably 40-60% of the content is “look what I found on another blog”.
    The whole blogging thing is great, as it gives the “joe in the street” the ability to be a modern age journalist. The problem is that it doesn’t give them any of the tools, training or ethics (ethics and journalists, yeah, I know) of people that have done editorializing for a living…
    Even the diversity of comment across the Blogsphere still doesn’t protect against plaigarism, or trigger either independent or collaborative thought.
    What is really needed is the “next generation” where the “net” tells you that a) that what you are saying is a load of… b)that someone else has already said this, c) points you at a collaboration, of like minds, rather than standing on ones own soapbox…
    And that’s enough, I’ll get off my soapbox. now.

  2. I think LinkedIn and the other “social networking” sites that are available are great tools. As with any tool, it can be misused.
    By itself a hammer does nothing. For it to work you’ve got to pick it up and use it. It could also be used to whack somebody in the head. That’s not what it was designed for, but it could be used that way.
    The recent frustration that I’ve heard with networking websites stems predominantly from their misuse. By themselves their useless. They’ve got to be used as a tool. That means spend some time and energy learning how to use them.
    Most importantly we can’t forget what networking is really about. It’s about building mutually supportive relationships. If LinkedIn is used as a tool to help create and build those relationships then it will be very useful. If it’s used for any other reason people will say that “it doesn’t work,” and those who use it will become frustrated by those who are misusing it.
    Happy networking!

  3. LinkedIn, from what this neophyte blogger is distilling of this thread, sounds like a neat tool that I must learn about.
    However, what Dave describes taking place about this voting…seems to be “mental masturbation”, or measuring the length of one’s P…..
    I encourage this new B’sphere I’m joining to be transparent…and stuffing the ballot is not.

  4. In the ‘old’ days you could look a man in the eye and seal a deal with a handshake confident that you had the measure of the other person.
    These days that option isn’t there if you do business on line but that doesn’t mean you don’t get some insight into the person your dealing with.
    Personally I find request like ‘vote for me’ or ‘vote for our group’ tend to be tacky at best and verging on the sleazy at worst and I tend to avoid doing business with anyone who is so desperate that they have to resort to those sort of tactics.

  5. Couldn’t agree more, Dave. I was horrified to receive six or seven of these “vote for LinkedIn” messages one day last week (the spooky part: they were all the same message, from different people). The ironic thing is that LinkedIn was nominated in a really strange category – the Best Way to Find a Job Online – competing with Monster.com, Careerbuilder.com, etc! Let it go, people! LinkedIn has 3.5 million (presumably) happy users. Being included in a Business Week online poll (BWO gets around 3 million visitors a month) is pretty good exposure. Who cares if they win? Do we have to stoop to force-voting?
    I hope not

  6. As the tempo of Web-enhanced life increases, the idea that an individual or organization would or could take the time to grow a business across serveral years is slipping away.
    Today, it’s “essential” that one’s business is seen to be significant and established within no more than the first two or three years of its existence.
    To that end, a variety of techniques — including what I’ll describe as “enhanced participation” in online polls — has become a standard means of gaining presence *now*.
    Is it good business? Possibly. Is it good living? Doesn’t seem to be to me.
    “Much of what producly calls itself education is merely a rearranging of ignorance.”

  7. A very interesting question, Son. What they’re doing is trying to ensure that their site is accessible for the greatest number of visitors, whether they have new or old browser technology. It’s not keyword stuffing in my opinion.

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