LinkedIn’s Snowball Effect

Am I alone in noticing a pronounced snowball effect with LinkedIn lately?  As I noted in my post on their 100M member milestone in the Spring of 2011, I was an early-adopter of LinkedIn, joining before approximately 99.8% of the current members (I was member number 231,537 out of the 100M+ current users).  I attribute this to the fact that I was working in a technology company when LinkedIn started, and I was generally interested in the nascent social networking area, so I received early invitations and ended up fiddling around with the new site.

And as a result of my joining early,…

…it took a relatively long time before 500 connections had accreted – at least a couple years.  Few people belonged so users received fewer connection requests.  For example, I initiated the majority of my connections in those early days.  But as the site has grown, an interesting phenomenon has emerged.  The speed at which connections accrue began to accelerate exponentially.  At some point in October 2011 I noticed I had surpassed 2000 connections.  If the first 500 took several years, the next 500 took about half as long.  And the next 500 about half as long again.  And this last 500 seems to have happened overnight.

This accelerating growth cannot be explained it in terms of my own behavior – I initiate very few connections lately; virtually all of my new connections are in response to the stream of new invitations.  In fact, in recent years I have started to reject a far higher proportion of the invitations I receive because I don’t know who the person is or I don’t want to be connected to them.  So it’s not me that is driving this.

If not me, then what is going on?  I cannot say for sure, but here is my theory:  as the site has grown, its recommendation engine has surely improved.  But more importantly, the number of shared connections between a user and any other given user has grown significantly.  Thus users are being presented with more suggestions to connect, those suggestions are more relevant, and each one has a larger payload of shared connections in common.  This has the effect of making users feel closer to and more comfortable with suggested connections (due to the list of people in common), thus lowering the bar to invite someone to connect.  This lower bar leads to new invitations, and the cycle repeats itself.

Question is, where will this all go?  To an inevitable degradation of the signal to noise ratio on LinkedIn?  Or will its greater coverage of people enable previously unseen benefits?  Your guess is as good as mine….

For a more on LinkedIn, see my Top Ten Real-World Uses for LinkedIn and my Top Ten LinkedIn Tips & Tricks.

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