Last week I logged into LinkedIn and saw that one of my relatives had endorsed me for blogging. I like my relative a lot. But he’s not a tech blogger, and he’s not a colleague of mine at GigaOM either. In fact, we’ve never even worked together. I assumed he endorsed me because he’d read some of my articles, or he just wanted to be nice. But really, I had no idea why I got the endorsement.
So I was curious to hear from LinkedIn: What is the point of endorsing someone on the social network? Is there any benefit to me if I get endorsement from a kind-of-random person who doesn’t know me in the endorsed capacity? Will it make my experience on the site any better, or should I remove endorsements from off-target people?
The answer from LinkedIn was: An off-target endorsement isn’t a huge deal, as long as you have the skill for which the person endorsed you. But as the barrier to leaving feedback gets even lower, which is the point of endorsements, LinkedIn needs to find a way to make sense of all that data that’s being added to the site. Or it risks being seen as annoying its users with unwanted notifications.
I spoke with Brad Mauney, who is a product manager for identity features, about the idea behind endorsements and where the product is headed. He first suggested that other people might be getting more relevant endorsements than me, or that if I accepted too many people I don’t know, that could affect the feedback I’m getting.
But it’s not just me. A quick survey of friends and co-workers raised the same questions and concerns. Mothers-in-law, in particular, seemed to be avid endorsers, from my very limited survey. There’s a Quora thread devoted to the issue of endorsement accuracy, as well as questions from users on LinkedIn itself about how useful the feature really is.
LinkedIn launched the endorsements product in September 2012, and in May 2013, the company announced that there have been 1 billion endorsements since then. The company already had the recommendations product, which worked more like a formal resume reference, and Mauney said they’ve seen both endorsements and recommendations increase since then.
Part of what makes endorsements so prolific — and sometimes off-target — is that it’s incredible easy to endorse someone. Now when you visit a connection’s page, it makes auto-suggestions for you at the very top. But the ease of leaving feedback plays into the complaints, with some people arguing that it makes them less meaningful.
“We wanted to create something that was much more lively and a lot more streamlined,” Mauney said. “We wanted a way for a user to endorse another user. To sort of tip their hat and say, ‘I endorse you for this particular skill.'”
From LinkedIn’s perspective, the more endorsements people leave for you, the more it can build up information about your true skills, even if not all of those people have worked closely with you. LinkedIn analyzes your profile to pick the skills it thinks you might have, and then auto-suggests that people endorse you for those. Which probably explains why most of the people endorsing me are random, but the skills that end up on my profile are not. And once skills are established on my profile through endorsements, it adds to the data that comes up along with my name in a search.
“It’s a wisdom of the crowds sort of thing. A single endorsement taken in isolation, that might not mean very much,” he said. “But when I look at your profile and I see you’ve been endorsed for a single thing 99 times, that’s actually quite meaningful.”
But when Mauney and I talked about the accuracy of endorsements overall, he did say that the company is looking for ways to make them more useful. For instance, he said, if Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, endorsed him for his product management, that should be weighted much more heavily than if his mom endorsed him for product management (assuming she has not also co-founded a tech company).
In fact, if he had no endorsements for product management at all except for Hoffman’s, that might be just as meaningful as 50 vague friends or acquaintances endorsing him for the same thing. Not all endorsements are equal, and he said it’s fair to say that they’re looking for ways to improve this.
So until then, yes, you might keep getting endorsed by that person you met at a conference one time and probably wouldn’t recognize on the street, or your mother-in-law. Just remember, you can always hide their endorsement. Or you know, disconnect if you really don’t know them in a professional capacity.
Have you endorsed someone on LinkedIn before? Do you find the notifications annoying? Leave a comment and tell us why.