07/24/2013 12:21 EDT | Updated 09/23/2013 05:12 EDT

The LinkedIn Loophole That Really Stinks

There has been a lot of discussion and coverage around LinkedIn recently but to quote Shakespeare: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

(Full disclosure: I work closely with LinkedIn but I'm not remunerated by them and don't own any stock in the company. In this situation, I'm strictly speaking on behalf of myself and no one else.)

The way LinkedIn works is such that you cannot see someone else's LinkedIn connections unless they agree to connect with you (i.e. becomes a 1st connection).

As noted by Linkedin: "By default, your 1st-degree connections can see your list of connections. This lets them browse your network and find mutual friends and colleagues. No matter which setting you choose, your 1st-degree connections will always be able to see shared connections."

What's concerning is some LinkedIn users are now leveraging an option in their privacy and settings where their 1st connections are hidden from their other 1st connections.

In my view this defeats the entire point of LinkedIn. If someone has full access to another LinkedIn network but there is no reciprocity, how is that fair, much less mutually beneficial?

When I asked some of my 1st connections their reasons for doing this:

  1. They had no idea they were doing this and wanted to correct it. To do so please go here.
  2. One financial services executive confided: "Tonnes of people trying to add me so it's easier to accept them...don't necessarily want them adding all my contacts/bugging them."
  3. The majority who hid their 1st connections (and happened to be in the recruitment industry) explained that is industry best practice. One candidly explained "It's a dog eat dog world out there and sometime I feel like I'm wearing milkbone underwear." Which is a creative way of saying they connected to competitors and don't want their clients or employees being poached.

When I reflect on these comments, it all comes back to something I recently wrote about and my rule for LinkedIn since I joined over seven years ago:

I have to meet you, like you and trust you -- in order to connect with you.

We're all judged by the company we keep both offline and online. LinkedIn is no different.

Now some could say hiding 1st connections isn't really heinously offensive. And it's entirely possible many of my LinkedIn connections who hide their 1st connections were asked by me to connect in the first place. So what am I moaning about?

It's not about me not having access to others networks but a bigger potential issue on the horizon.

Imagine if all LinkedIn users decided to hide their 1st connections from their other 1st connections?

That bustling digital metropolis known as LinkedIn would become a ghost town pretty quickly.

The beauty of LinkedIn is about helping each other via 'digital reciprocity' in a time of global economic strife is incredible.

The opportunity to cut down six degrees of separation to only three degrees of separation while trying to build relationships is amazing.

The power to leverage our personal networks to drive business results and create social good is awesome.

All of this is contingent on the ability to help each other. It's the whole "Oh my goodness, I had no idea you knew that person -- do you think you could introduce me please?"

Isn't diminishing the potential to do all of that on LinkedIn a little rotten?

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