LinkedIn Has a New Tool to Prey on Your Social Insecurity

A blog about business and economics.
May 22 2014 1:37 PM

New “How You Rank” Tool Stacks You Against Your Colleagues and Connections

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How do you rank?

Screenshot from LinkedIn

LinkedIn is turning to a tried-and-true motivator to get you to fill out your profile: status anxiety. The online networking site announced on Wednesday that it was introducing a new feature called "How You Rank." The tool allows users to see how they stack up against others in their networks (company and overall connections) in terms of profile views, and how that ranking has changed in percentage terms.

What's clever about "How You Rank" is that it helps LinkedIn wrangle more information out of its users by appealing to our natural competitive instincts. Along with showing you the "most viewed" members in your networks, the tool also displays a column of "easy ways to get more views" for your profile. More views! The tips include updating your summary, joining a suggested group, and adding a preselected skill—all of which promise to increase your search traffic and site visibility.

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If users take the social bait and update their profiles, LinkedIn's database will become that much more accurate, presumably increasing the value of the $275.9 million human resources business that makes up 58 percent of the company's revenue. (Ads and premium subscriptions accounted for the other $197 million in revenue LinkedIn reported for the first quarter of 2014.)

LinkedIn's "How You Rank" feature hearkens back to Dave Eggers long-winded but oddly prescient novel from last fall, The Circle. The dystopic story revolves around a huge Internet conglomerate (think Google + Facebook + Twitter + Instagram) that demands total engagement from its employees and measures them against each other with a "PartiRank." The feature quickly becomes an unhealthy addiction for the main character, Mae, and her co-workers:

Mae looked at the time. It was six o'clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending four zings and thirty-two comments and eighty-eight smiles. In an hour, her PartiRank rose to 7,288. Breaking 7,000 was more difficult, but by eight o'clock, after joining and posting in eleven discussion groups, sending another twelve zings, one of them rated in the top 5,000 globally for that hour, and signing up for sixty-seven more feeds, she'd done it. She was at 6,872, and turned to her Inner-Circle social feed. She was a few hundred posts behind, and she made her way through, replying to seventy or so messages, RSVPing to eleven events on campus, signing nine petitions, and providing comments and constructive criticism on four products currently in beta. By 10:16 her rank was 5,342 ...

So congrats, LinkedIn. If "How You Rank" really takes off, you'll have moved us one step closer to Egger's office dystopia.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.