LinkedIn: The Network Effect Revisited

You've signed up for LinkedIn, because everyone says it's the primary business social network. But to whom should you connect? According to a few power users, there are a few common approaches, most of which are different than what you'd do on Facebook.

By C.G. Lynch
Mon, October 06, 2008

CIO — As people make "connections" and build their contacts list on LinkedIn, the popular social network for business professionals, some users have thought long and hard about the quality of their connections versus the number of connections they acquire. According to the service's power-users and social media analysts, establishing the best criteria for making a connection could, over the long term, determine how much value you get from LinkedIn.

According to Jonathan Yarmis, a research director at AMR Research, a LinkedIn user might (consciously or subconsciously) decide to fully apply Metcalfe's Law — the "network effect," whose premise is that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system. This is especially tempting for users on LinkedIn since it doesn't contain personal information of the same intimacy as, say, Facebook.

Metcalfe's Law and the network effect.
According to experts, Metcalfe's Law of the network effect should not necessarily be employed by users in determining how many users to connect with on a service like LinkedIn. Image source: Wikipedia

"I accept just about everyone on LinkedIn who I don't otherwise view as a spammer because that increases my network breadth," Yarmis says. "Since I'm not sharing a lot of information, there's no downside to the sharing. My filter here is: 'Might I ever want to know where you are? Can you add any value to me?'"

But in general, for today's social networks, Yarmis says Metcalfe's Law, which was designed for the Ethernet and not the Web, doesn't work very effectively for users. He says that's especially true on Facebook, where the information is more personal than LinkedIn.

Justin Smith, who runs the Inside Facebook blog, echoes that sentiment. He notes that Metcalfe's Law "may not literally apply to the question of 'adding connections' on social networks because the act of establishing a connection to another user does not open an otherwise-closed communication channel; it merely loosens the privacy restrictions of the channel that exists between those two people."

Facebook's privacy settings, he adds, make it possible for users to "friend" someone but share less information.

"Sites like Facebook enable users to increase the quality of connections between users by setting granular privacy restrictions on each friend," he says. "This maximizes the value of each connection by allowing more sharing with trusted connections and less sharing with untrusted connections."

But on LinkedIn, the contacts provide mostly professional information, thus making a "connection" that isn't as vetted less risky — if not beneficial.

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