The surprising response when I called LinkedIn “arseholes”

Five months ago I wrote a brief, ranty post calling the product team at LinkedIn arseholes for making it harder for me to perform a few regular, important tasks, and of making one task impossible.

(Summary: I accused them of making it harder to reply to unsolicited connection requests before declining them, of trying to build the value of their audience at the expense of the customers who make up that audience.)

It was probably the quickest blog post I’ve written in years — I didn’t do any background research, didn’t check to see what other people had written, didn’t even check to see if I knew anybody at LinkedIn.

So I was surprised when the blog post started to pick up a lot of interest. It quickly became the biggest thing I’d ever written on Medium, and then it became the biggest thing I’d ever shared on LinkedIn too.

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Far and away the most-read post of mine on Medium, and 77% of people read the entire post. Not bad for a rant.
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I think the most interesting thing here is the 716 referrers from email, IM and direct. This got passed around.
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Profile views went up a little too!
And I’ve never had so many likes and comments on a LinkedIn update.

I touched a nerve

Probably the primary reason we write and share online is to get a big reaction. I had a big reaction here. Not everybody agreed with me in comments but the vast majority did. It seemed like what resonated most was my honest emotional response — as if many LinkedIn users felt this way — I’d been the one who expressed what they’d been feeling.

Soon after the post became popular, LinkedIn’s customer service team contacted me to see if they could identify whether it was a bug I was experiencing or a problem in UI design.

Then a friend on Facebook showed me how, on the desktop version, there’s a little bitty icon I can click to do what I wanted — send a nice message to someone to explain why I don’t want to accept their connection request. More about how to do that in just a moment. First, a short, sincere apology.

The friend I hurt

Two senior people at LinkedIn contacted me to offer their help — their senior-est, CEO Jeff Weiner (which was great, obviously), and Director of Product Management Mark Hull. ‘Wait:’ I thought, ‘Mark Hull is still working at LinkedIn? OH NO!’

Like Jeff Weiner and I, Mark Hull is an ex-Yahoo! employee, but unlike Jeff, Mark is my friend. Not my closest friend; we live and work half a world away, and Facebook usually thinks I’m not interested in what Mark is up to. But he’s a great guy who helped me out a lot when we both worked at Yahoo!

I’d just accused him of making “dick moves” to sacrifice user value for revenue

#ruhroh

To his great credit, Mark didn’t respond by being as unfair to me as I’d been to him. He assured me he had a thick skin, and dug right into getting to the bottom of my feedback. But hey Mark: you’re a great guy and however the product frustrates me, you didn’t deserve that. I apologise.

Want to be a decent person on LinkedIn?

My original rant was because LinkedIn’s redesign was making it even harder than before to reply to people I didn’t want to connect with, instead of just clicking the ‘x’ (which makes me feel like I’m being a douche, not explaining my rejection and not giving the other person a reason to explain the context for their request).

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I don’t like either of these choices. I want to reply to Ivan, thank him for wanting to connect with me, and then explain why I don’t want to connect with him. Not rocket science (or shouldn’t be).

Turns out, there is a way to do it, but it’s a little complicated and non-obvious so here’s my step-by-step instructions.

First you need to roll over the little grey speech bubble icon up in the top right of the connection request. Yes, the one that looks like a label rather than a button (because the other two buttons on this pane are rectangular and have text labels). Yes, roll over rather than click (even though almost everything else in the LinkedIn UX needs to be clicked). Yes, this will be hard to do if you have trouble with accuracy or if you’re trying to move fast.

Anyway, it will pop up a new pane-thing which will look like this:

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Can you find what to click on next? It’s the little white arrow in the top right of this roll-over

So at this point you get bonus points and go through to the elimination round if you have both the manual dexterity to move to the top right edge of this pop-up without moving off it (which will make it disappear) and the UX curiosity needed to realise that it’s actually the left-facing little arrow on the top right which you click to compose a reply. Tricky, huh? Again doesn’t look like a standard text label, rectangle LinkedIn button, and it’s not beneath the text in the request as you’d reasonably expect it to be.

I don’t know how long it’s been there but it’s interesting I hadn’t associated it with replying to someone until it was pointed out to me. Could be because it’s (a) way small (b) not labelled unless I rollover (c) doesn’t grow an underline when you rollover it.

But it was a bit harder until only recently (it had been a double quote mark instead of an arrow until then). As far as I can recall, the only use of a double quote to mean “reply” I’ve ever seen.

I have to look close to realise that there’s another option aside from clicking the ignore and accept buttons. Genuinely want people to be able to have a ‘reply’ choice as accessible and useful as the ‘accept’ and ‘reject’ choices? There’s room for a third icon right next to the other two there. Then on the People You May Know page the emphasis is clearly on adding new people to LinkedIn, not acting on connection requests, given without further exploring to find the See More link (again, looks like inactive text, not a button) you can see only 3 connection requests at a time vs an unlimited scrolling page of people you might want to send a connection request to.

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Which kind of users is LinkedIn trying to direct you towards here? The people who want to know you at the top, or the ones below?

Some other users I’ve spoken to say they mistook the second section to be the rest of the inbox of unprocessed incoming connection requests, meaning they were sending out unintentional connection requests when they thought they were responding to incoming connection requests.

Click on the ‘See more’ link and do I get to see all my unactioned connection requests? No. Can I see a whole page of them instead? No. I get the next three.

So I’m two clicks in from hoping to see something like the old Inbox UI, and one hover and two clicks from the homepage, and unless you’re in the most recent six requests, I can’t see you.

Is there a search pane so I can search for someone by name who doesn’t appear yet? no.

Worse on iOS

Sometime between October and today, LinkedIn’s product team have removed the ability to reply to a connection request from the iOS app. That’s more than mildly disappointing since previously it was possible but only if you clicked on the person’s name or photo, so you’d never guess it was there. Perhaps they removed it because nobody was using it.

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Accept or reject, there is no try-to-explain-why

And if you’d like to send a customised connection request (because we all hate sending and receiving the default message like robots) you can’t do it on the iOS app anymore.

Sigh.

In conclusion

Mark Hull, you’re not an arsehole, you’re a great guy. And it’s likely aresholes represent a less-than-statistical-average percentage of the workforce at LinkedIn. But I don’t love LinkedIn’s product experience anymore and neither do a lot of LinkedIn’s users who told me so.

Interacting with all the people who want to connect with you (and who you want to connect with) should be something central to the LinkedIn user experience — the thing LinkedIn does best of all.

Instead, it feels like LinkedIn is making it really hard.

I wish they wouldn’t.

Postscript: I was in SF this week for Startmate and Mark was kind enough to invite me in for a coffee in LinkedIn’s new campus on 2nd street. I let him read this second blog post and give me some feedback.

To his great credit, he didn’t ask for favours, didn’t dodge the hard questions and didn’t try to avoid answering them.

He explained how they’d arrived at some of the improvements I’ve observed in the user experience between my first post in October 2015 and today, and told me more about the improvements LinkedIn has planned in the near future, many of which address some of my specific issues.

Can’t wait to see them!

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Mark (L) and me (R) taking a selfie in the reflection of the window at LinkedIn today

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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