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I love LinkedIn – It’s a useful business application that I use regularly to keep up with old colleagues and connect with new ones. And I like the recent change to a more Facebook-style look and feel, along with the increased focus on networking groups. Indeed, I’ve recently started three networking groups on LinkedIn – one for online lead generation professionals, another for SF SEM experts, and a third for ex-employees of Adteractive.

One of the unfortunate observations I’ve had from starting these groups, however, is that there are a lot of people on LinkedIn who want to connect with and join every group they can. These people treat LinkedIn groups like they are commemorative quarters – the goal is to collect membership in every group.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I rejected someone today for the Online Lead Generation group who was already a member of the following LinkedIn groups:

  • StreetTech
  • AOL Alumni
  • Helping Friends Career Network (LI2HF)
  • PajamaNation Club
  • LI2 Helping Careers and Friendly Network (Jobs)
  • Link to Your World
  • Networlding
  • Wireless Jobs
  • Blog
  • Popular Names
  • Virtual Networker Society
  • ICQ
  • Duct Tape Marketing
  • Internet Technology Hub
  • Virtual Worlds
  • Lotus Professionals
  • Gmail Users
  • 401(k) Plan Participants
  • Wikipedia Users Group
  • Google Group
  • Indeed.com
  • MySpace
  • Y2K++ Challenge
  • Green Group
  • Food Lovers
  • Speakers and Panelists
  • Job Seeker
  • Open Source
  • CareerBuilder
  • Friends of Flanders
  • Economist Group
  • Data Warehouse – TDWI™
  • Generation X
  • Volkswagon Club
  • WORK From
  • Your HOME!:-))
  • Sales Growth Friends of / Amis du Canada
  • Friends of Slovenia
  • Friends of Germany
  • Active Blogger
  • Bowling is Fun
  • Freelancers & Self-Employed Professionals
  • Reading, PA
  • Finance Professionals Network
  • Group Joiners
  • Vinyl Fans
  • E-Commerce Solutions
  • GoBigNetwork Startup Community

Was this lover of Slovenia, bowling, 401(k) programs, and Reading, PA a big fan of lead generation, or was he – as noted in one of his group memberships – a “group joiner”, simply looking to belong to as many groups as possible? After reviewing his profile and seeing absolutely no evidence of any connection to lead gen, I concluded the latter.

I suspect, in fact, that most of the groups this guy joined are totally random. The odds that this one person is an AOL alumnus, Lotus professional, economist, and online lead gen professional seems pretty unlikely to me. Heck, he probably doesn’t even like bowling!

But think about what happens to a LinkedIn group when too many of these “group joiners” end up in the club. Eventually, the group becomes pointless and unfocused. If members have to browse through thousands of irrelevant members to find a legitimate contact, eventually, they’ll just stop using the group entirely.

The other problem with these LinkedIn groups is that it now enables virtually anyone to connect to anyone else, simply by claiming they are in the same group together. These days, I get one or two boilerplate invitations from people I don’t know with messages like “Hi, we are both in the same SEM group on LinkedIn, I would like to add you to my professional network.” While I’m sure that there is a great amount of cache to having such an illustrious blogger as myself in your LinkedIn network, the practical impact of such a connection is meaningless. It’s not as if I’m going to recommend someone for a job just because we linkedin to each other.

There’s even a very silly group called Top Linked which ranks the most-linked people on LinkedIn. At the top (currently) is a guy named Ron Bates who has over 39,000 connections. Clearly, this guy has nothing better to do than to spend his whole day sending requests to be linkedin to random people. Anyone who spends that much of his time connecting with others in actuality probably only has a few real connections.

So while I like the new functionality LinkedIn is providing, I think they may soon face a backlash from users who don’t find much utility in the actual application of the features. In many ways, LinkedIn is now experiencing the same problem previously encountered by Google’s algorithm team. When PageRank first came out, it was amazingly effective, simply because there weren’t any SEO’s around to game the system. As Google grew in importance, so too did the industry of Google SEO’s. This forced Google to constantly update their algorithms to try to counter the efforts of SEOs to obtain top rankings.

Had Google not continually updated their algorithms, the results would have become less and less relevant to users and eventually another search engine would have supplanted Google as the most useful search engine. LinkedIn is at this same crossroads. As “top” users collect connections from people they don’t know, as ridiculous groups emerge, and as ‘group joiners’ infiltrate legitimate groups, it begins to look like the inmates are running the asylum. In such a scenario, it’s only a matter of time before a new LinkedIn competitor

– with stricter linking and group rules – starts to draw legitimate LinkedIn users away.

I’m still a big LinkedIn fan, and I’m going to work hard to grow my networking groups into legitimate and useful tools. But I won’t accept an invitation to linkin if I don’t know you, and if you have more than ten groups on your LinkedIn resume, don’t count on getting admission to any of my clubs!