LinkedIn Recommendations: As Useless as eBay Feedback?

I recently was invited to set up a profile on LinkedIn. I wasn’t going to bother with it, but with all the hype around social networking, I decided to give it a shot. So I signed on and slowly started the process of building my network.

Because I am a staunch hater of spam in all forms, I refused to simply upload my entire address book to LinkedIn and let them either peruse it or use it to send unsolicited emails to everyone in my contacts. Instead, I decided to just see what happens.

My original invite came from a colleague of mine. I added him to my network, then used LinkedIn’s utility to see “Other people (I) might know.” Out of the other people I did know, one is another colleague (my graphic designer), a consultant (with whom I’ve never worked, and only know from occasionally bumping into her at networking events), a security professional whose podcast I listen to, and a former employee of mine. Within a week, I received an invitation to join the network of one of my sales reps.

I have not yet written any recommendations for anyone, and my profile is, as of today, 15% complete (although it was at 40% last week – not sure how I backslid). I intend on writing recommendations for my two colleagues, my sales rep, and the security podcaster. I will not write a recommendation for the other consultant because I don’t know enough about her.

Now, for the meat of this post.

I am also not writing a recommendation for the former employee. Why? Because I don’t have enough good things to say about the individual. While I was there, I did look over said individual’s profiles, and found it quite entertaining, and somewhat disturbing, that said individual had a positively glowing recommendation from yet another former employee of mine. While this may not sound surprising at first, the fact that the referral was gushing over said individual, after the referrer had repeatedly complained to me about said individual on multiple occasions. It got me thinking that this referral system on LinkedIn is nothing more sophisticated, or reliable, than eBay’s feedback system.

I have had very low regard for eBay’s feedback system for several years. Ever since I left a neutral feedback on a vendor who sent an item (10 network interface cards) described as “like new” which arrived absolutely encased in dirt and dust. They had obviously been removed from old, dirty computers, and did not meet my criteria of “like new.” Although they did work, I did need to spend some time cleaning the cards before I could put them into production. I noted this in my feedback, and the seller retaliated by leaving me neutral feedback. Now, how is this at all fair? I did everything right, paid my bill promptly, and waited for my product. Was I supposed to lie and say everything was perfect, and give positive feedback? I think not.

Similarly, the recommendation system with LinkedIn is likely to have just a bunch of positive referrals. After all, who is going to a) invite anyone to leave a referral unless it will be positive, or b) leave anything but a positive referral if there is the chance for retaliation by the subject being recommended?