Is LinkedIn a Digital Rolodex? A digital Resume/CV Library? Do you connect with people who have already given you the business card, sort of? Some LinkedIn members adhere to the rule of not accepting connections from people they don’t know. Indeed this is a LinkedIn recommendation and part of the system, as they describe and explain. Other people accept everybody who asks. Obviously, these are two very different interpretations of ‘linking in’. For the former, LinkedIn is a controlled acceptance of being part of my ‘library’. For the latter, it is partially the same, but the primary goal, stated or not, is to increase the size of the network. And this increase is likely to take place via people you don’t know, that is a, ‘Weak Link In’.
‘Weak Links’ (technically ‘Weak Ties’), are an old sociological concept that has proven very valuable. They are the opposite to ‘Strong Links’ (technically ‘Strong Ties’)
In 1973, the sociologist Mark Granovetter, wrote a very important article with the title: ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’. The title says it all. Your weak ties (people you don’t know well, a bit distant, not strong connections, but certainly not zero) open your horizons. In Granovetter’s research, the chances of getting recommended for a job are greater when coming from weak ties (people who don’t know you well) than from strong ties (people who know you well; too well?). That was a counter-intuitive finding at the time, as much as today.
LinkedIn is obviously a spectrum of Weak and Strong Ties. People very protective of their connections, who will never accept anybody who is not ‘known to them’, create a digital Rolodex and, in the extreme, miss the point completely in terms of the Granovetter factor. Other people on the other side of the spectrum, create a wealth of Weak Ties (the Strong Ties are a given, but may be a small part) and they are higher in ‘connectivity strength’, using Granovetter’s concept.
I think there is a case for a Linked Out (as in out in the world) system. Social networking today is the vehicle for Strong and Weak ties. Concepts are now completely redefined in digital terms. We need more research to define which ones are more powerful. My gut feeling is that Granovetter still wins today.