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Has LinkedIn Become the New Hot or Not?
By: Brian Wagner
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LinkedIn began its life as a glorified business card repository. As it has grown and evolved, the number of features and depth of information included in the site has made it an increasingly robust tool for personal and professional promotion. But somewhere along its journey as the social media site for a work-oriented crowd that didn't need to check their profiles every hour, it took a surprising detour into territory pioneered by HotorNot.com.

A short history lesson for the uninitiated. In the beginning (circa 2000) there was Hot or Not, and early adopters everywhere tried to hide their screens from coworkers as they passed facile judgments of people who they knew and — more often — did not know, based solely on physical appearance.

As is today claimed without attribution on Hot or Not's Wikipedia entry (but would totally make sense), the minds behind Facebook and other early social networking sites were influenced by the Hot or Not approach as they pioneered the art of the "Like." With the spread of Facebook, you no longer judged people by appearance, but instead by how cool or interesting their posts were. Early on a Like was valuable currency, sparingly given. Today, even a post titled "I drank milk today. It was good" can garner 15 Likes. It was and still is a shallow process that has been so cheapened by overuse and a lack of meaning as to have little value (speaking about the social value here, not the monetary value Facebook might accrue).

Today, it's not a stretch to say that the relatively new "Endorsement" feature on LinkedIn is the latest descendent of Hot or Not.

Early on, LinkedIn admirably avoided the instantaneous feedback model that has come to dominate leading social media sites, instead providing static content that served as the first online resume. Even the interactive judgment it did provide — the "Recommendation" — emphasized depth of thought and commitment of time. Even the most active LinkedIn users only had a handful of Recommendations. And shockingly, these Recommendations were substantial.

While it's true that LinkedIn allows you to Like posts as well, posts have never been a main attraction for LinkedIn. Unlike Facebook, your actual profile, the relatively static content, is where LinkedIn has differentiated itself.

But as LinkedIn grew, it wanted to play ball with the social networking giants. Thus, the Endorsement was born.

When you visit LinkedIn now, the site suggests at every opportunity that you endorse one of your many contacts for their skill in a certain area, based on what they discuss on their page. When it first launched, it seemed like a convenient modification of the Recommendation. But then one Endorsement became 10. Ten become 100. People you hadn't talked to in years began endorsing you. And it became clear that LinkedIn finally had pioneered its own version of the Hot or Not rating.

A fair question at this point would be, "so what?" This is not meant to be a direct condemnation of LinkedIn, which remains a great site for professional networking, but instead an effort to highlight a trend that LinkedIn once proudly avoided — the astronomical inflation of your social currency on the Internet. No one cares about an individual Like on Facebook anymore. And in the months since the launch of the Endorsement, it has already lost value as it has become apparent that LinkedIn will never stop prompting you to endorse your contacts on every page you visit. The worst is the mass endorsement, where you can endorse multiple people with a single click. It's professional profiling at its laziest.

So is LinkedIn truly the new Hot or Not? Not literally, though that would certainly bring more controversy and salaciousness to the world of business networking. But it represents the continuing inflation of our social currency online as we pass judgment without effort or thought. This may not be a problem right now for most users. But at the same time, LinkedIn is willfully discarding its mantle as a social networking site that prioritizes thoughtful online interactions and doesn't fall into the trap of playing to the lowest common denominator.

When the definitive history of the Internet is finally explained to us with ponderous certainty by Ken Burns on a 30-part PBS documentary, Hot or Not will have cast a longer shadow than many now realize across the social networking landscape.

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About the Author
Brian Wagner is a senior manager at McBee|Gibraltar, the strategic communications solution within McBee Strategic. Based in Washington, D.C., he is also a public affairs officer in the Navy Reserve. All opinions expressed are his own.
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