– Pay a production price for a beta service

As anyone who knows me or reads this blog will know, I’ve been a pretty strong fan of Linkedin. I’ve even gone so far as to begin a campaign at my company to encourage our employees to join. I used to work to sell the service and the idea of online social networking to just about everyone I met. I believed, and still believe it could be something of great value.

The problem is getting the value. More correctly, the value I’m paying for. I have a $20/month business account, and I’m starting to feel like I’m paying a production price for a beta service. Here’s my observations and issues:

  • It’s a simple question: How many questions can a user ask in the “Answers” area of Linkedin per month? Some folks say it’s 10. I’m finding that for me it’s apparently two. I contacted Linkedin’s customer service department, through their web page as I must if I want a response. I have a business account at $20/month, and one of the perks is getting a 1 day or less response from customer service. I got a response about 2 days later that we get 10 questions per month. While I was waiting, I realized they stated in a different message to me (on an issue below) some time ago that we get 5 questions per month. The problem is that I’ve asked only two questions in June. I haven’t even asked 5 questions in the past 31 days.  Clearly they’re either changing their policy too frequently to keep their staff informed, or they just don’t know how their system operates.
  • The problem is probably in their software, which probably has a bug in it. They have a lot of bugs. Their site is frequently down with no explanation save a “come back later page”. I discovered a bug where any question that is checked as being employment or recruiting related is automatically marked private (with no way to unmark it) with no warning. I reported it and got a message that confirmed that’s how it works as if it was clearly their policy. A request for a refund of the two questions I wasted discovering the bug yielded only the explanation that users get 5 questions per month.
  • They change features on a whim with no warning or explanation. There are no help files that state how the site is supposed to operate. The new feature displaying how many people have looked at your profile, and how many times it’s appeared in search results has no explanation and has disappeared and reappeared several times.
  • They implemented a new policy where if 5 people, ever, respond to your invitation with “I don’t know this person” you get booted. Evidently the CS people cannot override this. You can get reinstated, but that can take a while if the posts I read on various forms are any indication.
  • Linkedin is rather obsessed with the quality of people’s networks, admonishing them to connect to only people they know. Yet Scott Allen (of Virtual Handshake fame) is listed among my “Former classmates, past and present colleagues” on the Linkedin site as people I might want to connect to, yet I’ve never worked with Scott or even attended the same schools. A few other strangers are listed there as well. I’m an open networker and that these people show up in the list doesn’t really bother me, but it’s another indication that their software is not yet under control.

I get the impression they’re not really in control of the product or the company yet. They’re still in beta. They want people to believe they are a solid and stable company and have chosen arrogance as the way to communicate that. The question is whether I want to pay a production price for a beta service.

But there is good news. Xing, a European competitor to Linkedin has now signed an agreement with Zoominfo to offer services. I use both Xing and Zoominfo, and both have some weaknesses. It’s hard to say how much synergy will be created between them. Regardless, it’s good news because Linkedin desperately needs a competitor. With some competition they’ll be forced to get their product out of
beta, charge a reasonable price for it, and treat their users like
valued customers.

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