The LinkedIn Curmudgeon Portrait

The LinkedIn Curmudgeon on LinkedIn’s Big Announcement

The LinkedIn Curmudgeon makes a guest appearance on Frugal Guidance 2 again, inspired by LinkedIn’s recent announcement of changes to Groups. The LC is delighted with the announcement, not only because he really wants LinkedIn Groups to succeed, but also because there is so much to be truly curmudgeonly about in the announcement! (There really should be a German word, perhaps Kurmudgeonlichkeit, to describe this type of joy.)

In a message dated 9/22/2015, LinkedIn quietly announced that they are soon making major changes to LinkedIn Groups. Many of you remember earlier last month when LinkedIn changed the way members of groups can exchange private messages by limiting them to 15 messages per month for people you are not already connected to. That was 15 message per month for ALL your groups.

The new changes won’t effect messaging so much, but will be the most significant changes since Groups started in 2005.

Here are the changes:

Unlisted and Standard Groups

There will be two types of groups: Standard private groups and Unlisted groups. Public groups will no longer exist.

Unlisted Groups

Unlisted groups will be the stealth craft of LinkedIn. You won’t find them in search and rumors about them will be whispered in dark alleys. They will be invitation-only and the group manager is the only one who can approve group membership. The group icon (complete with a little padlock) will only mysteriously appear on a member’s profile if the viewer is also a member of that group. (If only existing members can view the group icon, why is there a need for a padlock to show that it’s unlisted?) There’s no word on whether members will be required to learn a secret handshake.

For unlisted groups, the Curmudgeon has visions of the old London men’s clubs of Victorian literature (as in Sherlock Holmes stories or Phileas Fogg’s club in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days). Envision beefy, entitled men sitting in front of their laptops, smoking cigars and sipping sherry, discussing the fate of the LinkedIn Empire before heading to the private dining room. No? Well, the Curmudgeon is not likely to ever be invited to join an unlisted group, so he can imagine what he likes!

Standard (but Private) Groups

Standard groups will be like the current private groups. You will need to be a member to post or read Discussions (now called Conversations). Here’s the surprise wildcard: Members of this type of group will be able to invite new members AND APPROVE THEM, taking that onerous duty from the group managers.

Group managers are not thrilled. In fact, that’s why many of them are seriously considering making their groups unlisted.

Conversations in either type of group will be available only to members, making all Groups “a private trusted space.” Search engines will be banned (except, maybe, LinkedIn’s own).

Content Moderation and Filtering

To keep conversations quick and lively, LinkedIn will allow members to instantly post their topics of discussion to a group, no longer waiting for approval of the group manager for the post to show.

But group managers will still be able to remove off-topic conversations after they are posted and place members in moderation: meaning the group manager may return to moderating their posts.

Other group members will still be able to flag inappropriate comments and conversations (with all the mischief and abuse that has entailed in the past).

But Big Brother, in the form of automatic filtering of content, will still lurk in the background. They state, “LinkedIn has improved the filtering of spammy and low-quality content so that promotional conversations stay out of the conversation feed and conversations can happen around more relevant topics.”

This will be a big comfort for those of us who have been unfairly placed on automatic moderation for having shared a link to a blog post – with no human being able to explain why. The plan is to reduce spam. The result might be to limit legitimate sharing of information. We’ll see. (Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?)

But, the Promotions tab will be removed from all groups. So if your plan was to put a promotion or link in that section of the group, avoiding the “regular” conversations, well, as they say in New Jersey, “Fuhgedaboudit.”

So, what is a legit conversation?

Have no fear. LinkedIn provides us with some new guidelines in Contributing as a Group Member – Best Practices.

As far as promotion is concerned: “LinkedIn offers many other ways to promote your business, yourself, and your ideas to the audience you want to target. Groups are not the right forum to do this. Groups are all about building relationships through the conversation about topics and ideas with a two-way dialogue.” (Those are curmudgeon italics.) The article also suggests that if you want to promote your business or ideas, you should use a Company Page or use their Publish platform. This will be a surprise for all those people who created Groups to talk about what they do for a living.

It’s fascinating that, in the world’s largest BUSINESS social media site, that promoting your business, your blog or your ideas is to be segregated into two narrow areas of the site (and your profile). Yes, we need to reduce spam on LinkedIn, no doubt about it. But how do you write an effective software algorithm to allow talking about business but not talking about your own business? Isn’t the whole idea of BTB networking about promoting your biz?

And if LinkedIn is serious about reducing spam, they could do a world of good by eliminating the many thousands (if not millions) of fake accounts created by spammers and ’bots. No announcement about that, though.

New Rules for Job Posts

If you delight in LinkedIn’s ability to automatically reduce spam and regulate member’s posts, you should also be a fan of LinkedIn’s automatic moderation of jobs posts.

The Jobs tab has existed in Groups for, well, a long time. According to LinkedIn’s new guidelines on Job Postings – Group Conversations, “Conversations that are posted to a group that look job-based on LinkedIn’s algorithms will be automatically moved to the Jobs tab.”

These Job conversations (which may or may not be about actual job openings) will expire after fourteen days and be automatically removed (probably to the lower levels of a LinkedIn algorithmic hell, never to be seen by mortals again). Group managers, however, will have the ability to hasten such notices’ demise at the push of a button.

Job hunters will, surely, be delighted by the appearance of yet another Black Hole in the job search environment.

There’s no clarification yet about how this automatic moderation will affect the many job hunting groups where the main topic of discussion is job hunting and finding and sharing job openings. It will also be interesting to see how discussions about the new Steve Jobs movie will fare under the digital regime.

The Curmudgeon Hero

The LinkedIn Curmudgeon as he sees himself.

Sayonara Subgroups

Groups will no longer have subgroups, because (in LinkedIn’s words) “…for the majority of our members, the experience was confusing.”

So, regardless whether you pity those poor confused souls, all LinkedIn subgroups will now be separate groups, likely confusing the millions of people who are members of those subgroups and can no longer navigate to them from their parent group.

But there’s no sign that LinkedIn is raising the cap of belonging to 50 groups. Reports after this article was published suggest LinkedIn is doubling the number of groups you can join to 100, but this isn’t confirmed officially by LinkedIn’s Help pages. (Previously, they didn’t count subgroups as separate groups.)

Adding Images

Although we’re discouraged from posting links, we will now have the ability to add images to our Group posts. So we can now test whether an image is worth a thousand words.

As colorful as images may be, and as syrupy cute as LinkedIn’s new Emoticons are, the Curmudgeon would gladly give them up for a text system that allowed users to use italics, boldface, and bulleted and numbered lists. Email outgrew text-only messages in the 1990s. Couldn’t LinkedIn do that in the 2010s? (Dare we even imagine adding HTML formatting to profiles?)

@ Mentions

You can now use @ (“at”) mentions on LinkedIn by typing the @-sign followed by the person’s name. You’ll be able to select the person from a popup menu. This is similar to mentions on Twitter and Google+. You can reference and promote your colleagues in Groups with mentions.

So, this should make it easier to connect with a Group member, right? Well, unfortunately, LinkedIn has removed the option to send an Invitation to Connect to fellow group members. (Great way to support Groups, LinkedIn.)

Group Highlights and Email Digests

Instead of sending out a flurry of group emails, LinkedIn is reducing the load by consolidating them into a digest of “the most interesting conversations.” There will also be a new Highlights page within LinkedIn Groups to help guide readers.

The LinkedIn Curmudgeon fool

The LinkedIn Curmudgeon as some others imagine him.

iOS app for Groups

With the announcement of changes to Groups, LinkedIn also proudly announced the creation of a new mobile app for iOS (Apple iPhones and iPads) just for following LinkedIn Groups, including push notifications for conversations. An Android version is also planned.

The Curmudgeon imagines Android users are griping, “How come LinkedIn never releases its apps for Android first?” He also imagines Apple users asking, “How come we’re the ones that have to beta test all these LinkedIn apps and work through all the bugs?” Apparently, LinkedIn’s answer to the growing number of users visiting on portable devices is to add ever more apps to clog Apple users’ devices.

The Future of Groups

Anybody who has followed LinkedIn Groups for years, probably has been dismayed at how the flood of real discussions has dwindled to a trickle in most groups.

Some wondered if LinkedIn was planning on getting rid of Groups like they got rid of the popular public Answers section several years ago.

Well, perish the thought. If nothing else, LinkedIn’s announcement proves that they are actually interested in improving Group experience and they are putting themselves (and their algorithms) on the line. Whether the changes help will certainly be a source of debate in the months to come.

The LinkedIn Curmudgeon wishes them well in the pursuit, remembering fondly many conversations in the past.

However, when LinkedIn announces big changes (always in anonymous posts, if there is any announcement at all), LinkedIn’s Marketeers loyally state that the changes are the result of “listening to member feedback and studying internal data…”

But, in recent discussions by people who love (and train people to use) LinkedIn, nobody ever seems to know anybody who is clamoring for these specific changes. To the contrary, there is a lot of griping about LinkedIn giving a deaf ear to ideas by Group moderators and LinkedIn members.

And, once again, the Curmudgeon notes that the most active public discussions about LinkedIn by people who really care about the site are found in the LinkedIn Experts Group – on Google+, with added LinkedInChats on Twitter. Can LinkedIn Groups be revitalized to be the center of discussion and debate about LinkedIn? Rest easy, the LinkedIn Curmudgeon is watching and will let you know.

Credits:

Top image of The LinkedIn Curmudgeon is entitled “Listening” from “Behind the Speaker’s Chair” in The Strand Magazine, an Illustrated Monthly Vol. VII, Issue 40, April, 1894. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org.

Image of Viking leader with horn was originally from Punch, October 25, 1890.Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org.

Image of old coot is excerpted from “Our Village Solomon” from Punch, or the London Charivari, Vol. 159, July 28, 1920. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org.

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