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

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?


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