Recently LinkedIn added a feature that allows you to endorse people for certain skills. Simply put, this is the ability to ‘plus 1’ a skill for any connection.
Most would agree that the ability to gauge someone’s perceived expertise at a glance is useful. My problem with endorsements is that the lack of restrictions on handing them out undermines the value of the process. For example, I have one colleague, who shall remain anonymous, who simply endorses everyone for everything (more on this later). The consequence of this approach is that people are happy about receiving endorsements and then feel obliged to endorse him/her back. My colleague is now a perceived expert in an astonishing number of areas!
Problem 1 – Reciprocal Endorsements
There is no cap on the amount of endorsements one person can give. With the general encouragement LinkedIn gives to ‘pass endorsements forward,’ we arrive at a situation where it is beneficial to endorse everyone for everything in hopes the favor will be returned. Since there is no way of viewing how many endorsements any particular user has given, the theory suggests a heavy endorser will likely be made to look far more impressive than they actually are – the most effective strategy is to endorse indiscriminately. As this trend continues, we tend toward a scenario where honest endorsements are marginalized.
The obvious preventative solution is to limit the number of endorsements a user can give. This would limit the range of the tool, but increase the value of each endorsement, while still using a metric that is easy to understand.
If they didn’t limit endorsements, LinkedIn could display how many recommendations a user has given next to how many that user has received. A user viewing a profile can then gauge how meaningful someone’s received endorsements are. The downside to this approach is that the metric cannot pin-point reciprocal endorsements and thus leaves a large margin of error for different types of users. Interestingly enough, LinkedIn already does this for the written recommendations; although as the amount of these is far fewer, the metric is easier to assess for users.
Personally, I think the best solution would be a dynamic cap. One endorsement per connection added on your profile, with no restrictions on their use. Make people consider what their use case is and how to disperse them in a meaningful way.
Problem 2 – Suggested Skill Box
In a bid to encourage endorsements, LinkedIn displays an endorsement box on all profile pages. It proposes four suggestions:
First, the skills generated in the skill box are not always the skills specified on the relevant user’s profile. The LinkedIn algorithm often suggests skills that are completely irrelevant. Overnight you can become a perceived expert in something you have no experience in at all. My personal favorites this week were Bash and Python, for which I received 3 endorsements each. I have never, in my life, held a developer/engineer position or written a line of Python!
Second, these questions are far too suggestive. Being offered a name and an associated skill is simply leading the user down a path, and as discussed above, this is often the wrong path. “Who would you recommend for Java?” would be a far better question. The user should at least have to think about the skill set and their connections. Even better, how about limiting the suggested endorsements to those that you have noted as your own skills? Maybe this wouldn’t be enforced if the user were to go to a connection’s page to endorse, as this requires more effort than a skill box endorsement.
Finally, the interface for the endorsement box just encourages inaccuracies. The most prominent (and highlighted button) is, of course, ‘Endorse all 4’. If you close one recommended endorsement, another appears. If you endorse one connection, another will appear. If you ‘endorse all 4’, you can do four more! You can endorse 100 connections in your network for a random skill in less than 30 seconds. Now that’s efficiency. I have been told by my anonymous source that if you continue to ‘endorse all 4’ the suggestions do eventually dry up…
I’ve had quite a lot of fun on LinkedIn this week, adding new connections and endorsing people I know well, a little, and although I must confess to being part of the system I’m complaining about, really not at all. I’ve had a variety of responses, from thank you emails and return endorsements, to the dreaded no response (disclaimer – I have since deleted all the extra skills that were created and the related endorsements!).
As attractive as it is to have endorsements coming out your ears, with the current approach LinkedIn is taking to try and encourage its use, it is only a matter of time before people will disregard what could be an incredibly useful feature. You can see the inevitable happening already – try it.