Subverting Big Data

I had 1,500 word article all written two weeks ago about how long and far LinkedIn has fallen, even going as far as to title the thing “Why I am Leaving LinkedIn.”  Then Nick spouted off with his usual nay-saying self in his own article: Join My LinkedIn Big Data Gang-Bang, stealing my thunder.  Well, really he says it better than I, so it’s not so much he’s stealing my thunder as I’m his echo in the canyon.  Nick may have turned me around.  I don’t think I’m leaving LinkedIn after all.  I’m going to subvert it.

I wrote a thoughtful (and in hindsight, regrettable) treatise to my youngest cousins some time ago with a guide to managing their “Internet Fingerprint” and social networks.  They’re active, to say the least.  I thought a self-centered diatribe on the finer points of online behavior and career management which conveniently omitted my own buffoonery would be a great way to advertise just how out of touch I was with the generations behind me.  Oh, and maybe I could steer them away from any long lasting reputation damage.  In reality, whatever damage they may have done to their reputations was done long ago and will fade over time; they’re all still very young.  Still, I thought I was giving them good guidance by telling them to lock down Facebook and use LinkedIn like they would a background check: don’t connect with anyone you wouldn’t have over for dinner and recommend for a job.

I managed my LinkedIn network closely.  I have hundreds of connections I know personally and with whom I have had the privilege of working these past decades.  If someone asked me for an introduction I always had a home phone number to call.  Your connection to me is a trust I guard aggressively.  I maintained this regimen even as I watched LinkedIn devolve over the past few years into a cesspool.  More and more spam messages and even calls were arriving, yet I maintained my clean-cut approach.  I realized-

  • LinkedIn was probably harvesting my e-mail contacts
  • Members simply use the service to spam my colleagues
  • They allow minors to create profiles
  • They sell every function of the site to both job seekers and job posters in equal measures (and I don’t even use the site to find jobs!)
  • The clowns that contact me with through LinkedIn have almost all been a waste of time (seriously, do I look like I want to take a position as an entry level technician?  I must, because I’ve been contacted regarding 12 of those jobs in the past year)

At this point I have to conclude that Nick is right: LinkedIn is nothing more than a crap job board that fully intends to make its money by selling out the most closely held assets we possess, our personal networks.  But what’s a body to do?  I’ve been on the “Information Superhighway” since it was a dirt road*; these tools are handy and I’m no Luddite.

Staring at my address book yesterday it reminded me of a conversation during my time at Disney.  One of my guys asked me how many phone numbers I had memorized and why I didn’t just use my phone’s address book.  The answer to the first was the answer to the second.  I had full recall of over 1,000 contact numbers, names and so forth.  About 80% of my address book was right at my fingertips, I explained, because I don’t add people to my contact list unless I am likely to call upon them repeatedly.  That’s what made them “my contacts” instead of a random selection from the telephone book.  I asked “how many numbers can you recall?”

“6, maybe 10” he said.

Look, I’m no Rain Man but if you can only remember 6 telephone numbers you aren’t even trying.  You certainly don’t remember much else- like names, birthdays, spouses, children and hobbies.  I can’t remember all of that either but the numbers jog the memory banks.  Beside that I don’t want to perform some background check on Facebook or LinkedIn to stalk my contacts.  I want to call a person to speak directly because I freaking care about these people.  Every.  Damned.  One.  I might not want them all over for dinner at once but I do give enough of a crap about their privacy to not give out their number to a stranger on LinkedIn.

And that was the epiphany.  LinkedIn for me is redundant.  My network is simply my address book filtered by the corresponding entry in my head.  If I lose touch with someone, I call them.  If they want me to know how they’re doing and for whom they’re working, they’ll tell me.  Simple.  I don’t need social networking to manage my connections, I need a phone.  And an address book.

My big data, LinkedIn; not yours.  Can’t have.

So if LinkedIn wants to monetize my data and is going to devalue it in the process, I am happy to oblige by making it as worthless as possible from the outset.  I’ll be deleting some incredibly close LinkedIn connections here soon, even as I add a passel of casual and solicitous connections.  I certainly won’t be using LinkedIn as a business network any longer since it’s redundant and I have never needed an introduction through a LinkedIn contact anyway.  It should not be so easy for LinkedIn to see who are my real connections, which is presumably where the value to “buyers” lies.  In the mean time, LinkedIn will simply remain a crude “white pages” service and that’s about it.

As for my cousins: I probably gave you horrible advice.  Sorry about that.  I was wrong: LinkedIn sucks; go crazy.  And do yourself a favor: keep in touch with people directly.  Your network will be healthier in the end.

* That phrase “been on the information superhighway since it was a dirt road” was actually coined by one Rainer Mueller of Oceanside, California.  You may remember him from his tragic but important appearance before the US Congress.  A great photographer and car lover, Rainer was the guy who gave me my start in this business over 20 years ago and that story is one of legend, as is Rainer himself.  His home number is still in my address book.
Peter

About Peter

Peter is a Geocacher, competitive cribbage player, surfer, amateur magician, golfer and star watcher (the astronomical kind). In his day job for Datalink, Peter is a Senior Manager with their Cloud Service Management Practice helping customers build, manage and improve their legacy IT and Private Cloud infrastructures through Automation, Orchestration and clean living. We're not so sure on the clean living.
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