Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

Archive for April, 2012

The “Sponge Worthiness” Conundrum on LinkedIn

I would assume all of us are pretty well aware of the Seinfeld episode devoted to sponge-worthiness and the resulting option value research devoted to this problem. Strangely enough, I’m fast approaching a similar dilemma on LinkedIn.

Some of you may not be aware that LinkedIn does have a maximum limit on the number of invitations you can send out as a free user. Thanks to some crazy usage of the service over the past years, I will be hitting that limit this year, in all probability.

Such a limit makes no sense to me. As Michael Norton’s fascinating research on dating sites shows (among other more important things), in an environment where there is no penalty to pay, a “winner-takes-all” effect, at least temporarily for winning the date, and an issue with signaling quality,  setting limits on number of invites to send daily etc. could make sense. LinkedIn on the other hand, is premised on the network benefiting everyone on the network – users at both end of a connection as well as people connected to them. In fact, over the years, people connected to me seemed to find each other through me way more often than I find “use” for my network.

Under this situation, an artificial upper limit seems like poor product design. It is not that all of a sudden a user’s choice to convert to a paid account after many years of free usage will hinge around this particular limit, given that it is large. To the contrary, users that hit this limit (barring what could be provably spam accounts)  could probably be early adopters, heavy users, influencers or a combination of many of these elements – a segment that a company should cherish and nurture.

The limit itself does not seem to be punitive either. One could always remove connections and then add new ones, I would think. It just adds more useless work if a user does not want to upgrade to a paid account. And in a world of free where sites founded on networking are generating revenues through ads and vertical-specific paid features like for recruiting, I would doubt that I’d ever pay for this service.

So what ends up happening is a decision that is not too far removed from the one that confronted Elaine – do I send out an invitation to a new contact or not? Given the assymetry in the penalty (only I lose one invitation while both potentially gain from getting connected), it leads to unnecessary power games – leaves one to wonder whether the other person should burn an invitation first. You start thinking about contacts differently – are they valuable for me rather than vice versa, or for others in my network. You start to reevaluate your existing network – how much flab do I have in there that I need to take out, who are “losers” in here that are not worth being part of my network etc.

Fundamentally, this will end up making one assign priorities and preferences across time, careers and sub-networks for contacts within our networks. And that, to me, is a total waste of time. I guess Elaine could have ordered more sponges on Amazon if she could, and in the case of LinkedIn, I’m sure they can order a few more servers to burn up if I want to add those extra contacts.

Anyone listening at LinkedIn?



Chasing the Mahatma …

For some reason over the years, I have developed a continued interest/obsession over all things Mahatma. About what made the man behind the name, what drove his day-to-day decision making, and how he was as a human being, behind the larger than life persona that he has left behind, and beyond all the vitriol directed at him these days for all ills real or imagined.

Today was a fortunate occasion to indulge in this passion, thanks to Center for South Asia in Stanford. Narayan Desai, the son of Mahadev Desai who was Gandhiji’s secretary for several years and the Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapeeth, was visiting the Bay area as part of his Gandhi Katha tour of the US. He was all of 87 years young, with a passion for story-telling and no signs of getting tired despite a group of ardent listeners crowded around him even before the main event had started.

The event was itself was a highly spiritual journey for the audience. In less than two hours, Narayanbhai gave a glimpse into Gandhi and Music, about which prayers and hymns appealed to Gandhiji and the inmates of his ashram, and the millions of followers who marched with him as well. An added treat were the singers that accompanied Narayanbhai, singing some amazingly soulful bhajans in different languages. An audience that was not fluent in many of those languages still sat in rapt attention, listening to the powerful and moving sound of their voices and the interspersed commentary from Narayanbhai.

One of the memorable anecdotes from the evening was about a poor man who came by and donated one paisa to Gandhiji and he was asked to give more. He replied that that was all the money he had on him, but was asked in return whether he had a drinking habit, and was asked to leave that behind. It takes the soul force of a man like the Mahatma to convince a man to consult with his friends, make sure he will not be ostracized, and then walk over to the next village where Gandhiji was the next day as part of his walking tour, just to inform him that he was ready to take the vow to leave his drinking habit behind.

Managed to snag a couple of books written by Narayanbhai as well, on Gandhiji and his life in the ashram for the inmates. Look forward to getting more glimpses of what it might have felt like to live in one of the most interesting social experiments of the 20th century that served as a laboratory for Gandhiji’s nationwide campaigns.

Last but not the least, Joan Baez was present for the entire session as well, listening to the hymns and appreciating the voices of nonviolence and harmony from across the world. All in all, an amazing evening that the lucky few that filled the room had the good fortune to be a part of.