People You May Know on LinkedIn

Very funny post today on Everyday Goddess:

Seriously, LinkedIn has this has this function where it says, Hey, you might know these people! And I almost always do.

Yeah, they’re friends of friends, but out of all the friends that a friend of mine has, how does LinkedIn pick my ex-boyfriends, some guy I dated, a graphic artist I met at a gallery opening, and the one colleague from a huge past company that I actually do know? Seriously, they’ve got some kickin’ smart technology going on over there.

The truth is, of all the questions I get about LinkedIn, this is one of the most consistent ones. People are just fascinated by People You May Know (that’s the name we gave to that particular application).

One of the things I love most about working for LinkedIn is that the primary problem is all about people – their professional reputations, their relationships, and the activities based on them. We are in such early stages of understanding and capability.

In any case, I thought the last line was funny.

Seriously, they’ve got some kickin’ smart technology going on over there.

Definitely something that every engineer wants to hear. 🙂

And no, I’m not telling you how it works.

Update (10/24/2008): Hi everyone.  This post continues to traffic from time to time, and sometimes fairly hostile comments.  As a result, I’m closing down the comment thread here, since this was meant to just be a fun observation of a user response, and not an in-depth analysis of the feature or social network functionality in general.   This is my personal blog, and I’d rather keep it that way, so please direct any additional comments about the feature itself to the main corporate blog.   Thanks.

20 thoughts on “People You May Know on LinkedIn

  1. Hi Adam,

    I love that you spied my post about LinkedIn. It really is freaky effective, that “People You May Know” function.

    You know, some people are really into magic, which I’m not. But I gather the appeal is the whole “how does the magician do it,” and then the magician never tells.

    Engineers with mysterious programs are clearly so much cooler.

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  3. It _is_ very good stuff. Now, it just needs a ‘yes, I know this person but I don’t want to connect with them so stop asking me all the time’ button. And to recognize that I already have outstanding invites on some others. The latter is integration with internal data, and the former might be an interesting bit of external data to contemplate.

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  5. This actually really creeps me out. I’ve made one connection, and the people on the list have no connection to that person whatsoever. Some of the names on that list, I can’t see how they would be connected with me unless they were liftes from my email address book. It actually makes me want to remove my profile.

  6. Jessica,

    I’m going to assume that means that you feel that you need to know where the names came from in order to trust LinkedIn. I’ll pass it along.


  7. I’ve had the same experience & feeling as the last poster. Someone that I know has always been on that list. This has been true since back when I had only one connection (to someone w/ no relation whatsoever to this person). I have never imported any address book, and do not use Gmail. I have an interest&background in social network theory…. but at this point I don’t know whether to be amazed or very very suspicious. (I’d rather be the former, but am tending to the latter).

  8. Yes, I’m really creeped out too. I googled this issue to find this page. This is a huge privacy issue for me. Is linkedin scouring the internet? What information have I given to lead to that and how can I turn it off? I think most people want to have some semblance of control over their ‘professional’ life and this makes me uncomfortable. It might make a bit more sense on something like MySpace, but I don’t wanna see ex-boyfriends on a site to connect with colleagues.

    Things like this start me thinking how much is on the internet, how much people can know, and that maybe I shouldn’t be on so many of these sites.

  9. People are so willing to jump to exotic and negative conclusions. The real answer is that LinkedIn uses no one algorithm, but is constantly testing many possible approaches, and learning from which ones generate useful connections and which ones don’t.

    There is no harm in seeing a name and deciding not to connect with them. If you have a good enough predictive algorithm, you’ll end up with possible connections that you know personally, but not professionally.

    This is one of the reasons the new version of the application, just launched last week, has a “close” X by each name – you can remove it and never be bothered by it again.


  10. Adam,

    I too found this entry out of curiosity how LinkedIn identified someone to whom I thought I was connected only through private emails.

    “People are so willing to jump to exotic and negative conclusions” because we’re now conditioned to expect companies (and government) to overstep the line between customer intelligence and privacy in pursuit of competitive advantage; and because no evidence assuaging concerns has been presented. Although it’s surely not what you intended, saying “[a]nd no, I’m not telling you how it works” simply reinforces in my mind that LinkedIn may use methods to which some clients may object. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the consequence of a time in which organizations have and do exploit whatever personal information they can, confessing “mea culpa” only after having been pinned to the mat.

    I perceive LinkedIn clients as having different aims than Facebook and MySpace clients. My impression of the latter two services is that their clients are fairly anxious for maximum social connectivity, and are happy to have assistive automatons help them achieve that goal. As a LinkedIn client I want plenty of tools that assist my proactive discovery efforts; but I don’t want automation listing individuals whom it thinks I should know because, if it’s too accurate, I then want to know “how has LinkedIn automation reached these conclusions” and “to whom is LinkedIn providing this information.”

    Lastly, the argument “[t]here is no harm in seeing a name and deciding not to connect with them” is logically and emotionally associative to “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear:” It trivializes legitimate privacy concerns.


  11. Rod, your perceptions [sic] are your own, and you are more than welcome to have them. A vast majority of the members on LinkedIn appreciate intelligence and automation in the tools they use, which include automation of searches for colleagues, fellow alumni, and other “people you may know”.

    Artificial intelligence algorithms can be abused if they are made public, which is why a majority of the most successful algorithms are kept partially, if not totally, black box. You might as well complain to Google about their algorithm for search results.


  12. How about the simple answer? LinkedIn itself has the easiest starting point of all: they ‘see’ all searches.

    Logically, someone searching for my name would know me and chances are that there is a vice versa. From there, only a few connections need to be made through a not-so-sophisticated algorithm. Put something a little bit smarter in place and magic things appear to happen.

  13. I too found this page after googling around about this feature of LinkedIn. My particular concerns have to do with privacy — it seems that LinkedIn could not have come up with some of these names without using information about me that I did not supply. That’s a privacy issue, and I can do without that sort of “help”.

  14. What I want to know from Adam is whether he is willing to say that the PYMK function does not search my hard drive, outlook or other files, unless I explicitly authorize it (and not through some boilerplate in the Terms and Conditions).

    Assuming that Adam is able to say this, and I am not sure he can, the only other explanation is that the people on the list have you in their contacts and they imported their contacts (i.e. you) into LinkedIn.

  15. Hi Dave,

    1) I can, in fact, say that. We don’t search your hard drive, outlook, or other files.

    2) There are several other explanations. In fact, we continue to find new, interesting algorithms on a regular basis. This is one of the more fascinating areas of network/graph research, and we have some of the best PhDs on it.

    Take care,

  16. Adam.

    I was a little worried by the fact that you deleted my post on this blog about why people are are being surprised by LinkedIn seemingly “knowing” connections which are unknowable via posted information. I ventured that it was because it was not due to some advanced artificial intelligence but rather because LinkedIn keeps tracks of profiles you have viewed and proposes you as a connection to profiles you have viewed. The fact that you deleted it makes me think that I was on the money with my suggestion. Should we all be worried abvout the profiles we view for fear that they know we viewed them? Or not? Please explain.

  17. P Saget,

    I delete comments here for a number of reasons, most typically because they include some form of defamatory remark about me, or in this case LinkedIn. Honestly, I don’t remember your comment.

    Maybe I should just edit the comments down, instead of a full delete. However, you’d be surprised how many people forget that this is my personal blog, and some comments are inappropriate.

    We do have a feature on the site called “Who Viewed My Profile”, but the data is anonymized to prevent people from identifying exactly which person viewed your profile.

    We do not currently use this data as part of our People You May Know algorithm, but as I mentioned above we continue to experiment and utilize different data sets for the algorithm so this may change over time.


  18. Quick note: I have decided to close this thread down to comments.

    At this point, this has just become either a guessing game for the well-intentioned, or a place to post paranoid screeds. Neither is really the intention of this blog post, or this forum, which is my personal blog.

    So, with apologies, if you submit a comment to this post, it will be deleted.


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