LinkedIn is the first step in many professional sequences, but the last step in none.

New York - I joined LinkedIn about 10 years ago, and I’m not sure what I’m doing there. I have yet to find a job. I don’t source deals on it. Most career opportunities come from my network.

When I’m doing the hiring, I’ll post on LinkedIn. But I don’t expect much. The listing is a formality. It shows that the job is publicly available. Human Resource departments think that’s necessary. But my best leads, and my hires, come from my personal network – which, again, exists largely outside LinkedIn.

I wonder: What, exactly, am I linked “in” to?

As far as I can tell, I’m linked into being a cold lead for sales enquiries, recruiter spam and “investment opportunities”. Occasionally, someone valuable will introduce herself to me via InMail, LinkedIn’s service for reaching connections of a second, third or fourth degree. If we hit it off, we’ll move the conversation to e-mail, outside the “in” that links us.

That’s the problem: LinkedIn floats among all the distinct-but-important social clusters and use cases in our working lives. It’s grabbed a piece of all of them – but it owns none of them in full. Be it recruiting, organising, networking, mapping, sharing, engaging or keeping in touch, LinkedIn does everything partially, and nothing specially. LinkedIn is the first step in many professional sequences, but the last step in none.

First, there’s the set of close contacts. These people are my friends on Facebook, or else they’re in the contacts lists on my phone and e-mail service. I’m probably connected to them on LinkedIn, but I’ll never use that connection; it’s redundant.

Next, there’s the cordial professional contacts: former colleagues, acquaintances, and friends of friends. These people aren’t close enough for Facebook, and they make sense as LinkedIn contacts. But when it comes time to engage with one another, we’ll do it over e-mail. It’s more robust, flexible and dynamic than LinkedIn’s messaging service.

Then there’s the set of professionals I don’t know. Twitter, properly tuned, is a great way to communicate outside my circle. So is AngelList, a go-to place to meet people in my industry.

Why should a well-known founder, venture capitalist, author or executive feel comfortable interacting with me on AngelList, or Twitter, or even Hacker News, but not on LinkedIn? There’s less social pressure on Twitter, but arguably more pressure on AngelList. Social pressure is a partial but insufficient explanation.

The use case is equally important. On LinkedIn, I’m Jon Nathanson: a person with a mostly static CV, connected to people, presented as the sum of these parts. Before you interact with me, you take stock of me in that light, and you determine if I am worth your time. Your hasty assessment precedes everything I could say and do with you on LinkedIn. But on Twitter, I’m a stream of information; you pay attention first to the message, and second (if at all) to its messenger. On AngelList, I’m someone you’re involved with – connected through mutual interests in a deal, or as part of an investment syndicate, or as a serious prospect for such. We are connected through practical matters. My profile still matters, but it matters more that I put my money where my mouth is.


Want to build a better LinkedIn? Start by attacking the verb link, or the preposition in. Linking should be done in the present tense. Professional contacts, prospective employees and employers should come together for specific purposes: short-term projects or sharing of information. People should be working together, or exchanging value in some form and for some reason. Anyone should be able to post, sponsor and attract interest for a project, and anyone should be able to contribute. The best ideas attract the most interest, and the best talent makes itself known by the value of its contribution.

In should be based on contexts: anything from industry rumour mills to mentorship circles. LinkedIn’s groups have the basic idea here: Professionals need a reason to talk to each other. But LinkedIn groups are static, while topics themselves are energetic and mutable. A Reddit-style message board seems much more conducive to everyday exchange within an interest group.

I doubt any one site or service can replace all of what LinkedIn does, or at least supposedly does. That’s fine. We don’t need it all. In the future, hiring will be based on interactions and real-time data – not self-reported bullet points on a profile. Collaboration will be based on specific people and purposes, serving as beacons and putting out calls. People’s networks are ripe for the taking. I’d sign up today for a spam-free, pre-vetted professional networking service. And people like me? Talk to some of America’s 155 million working adults and chances are at least a few will listen. – Slate