By Sriram Gollapalli
Let's face it, soon after you meet someone for the first time, nine times out of 10, one of the first things you do includes "googling them" and then forming an immediate first impression. Ever since the web became ubiquitous, I have (admittedly not as well as I could have) done my best to keep my public profile relatively private. I was recently speaking with a friend about my approach and my intangible hesitance to be more public and he said: "If people are going to 'decide/judge' something about you, why not help influence/write the front page?"
History of The Profile
Starting in the late '90s, the majority of personal, public profiles existed within the academic community. Professors and graduate students would put up quick personal pages to share their research interests, publications and other personal facts. Why? To establish themselves in the community. As the web grew in popularity, sites like Geocities (1994-2009) and Friendster (2002-?? [~2007 in the U.S.]) tried to provide free web space to promote personal web pages and profiles. Today, most of my peers and people I meet tend to have two basic online identities: Facebook and LinkedIn.
Personal vs. Professional
Over the past several years, I have noticed these two profiles have taken distinct roles in our lives. Your Facebook page tends to be your "personal, social identity." You're not entirely sure who should see what (be it separated by groups you define, "googleable," or just trying to navigate the latest security/privacy settings). LinkedIn, on the other hand, has evolved into "who you are professionally." Most people tend to be confident in sharing their accomplishments, building their reputation and touting their experience and skills -- publicly.
There is no professional etiquette for what defines an online connection. LinkedIn defines your connections as "trusted friends and colleagues." When faced with a potential connection request via LinkedIn, I ask myself, "Would I feel comfortable introducing someone to this person?" Usually, this means that I have met them and/or had a real interaction with them. Recently, I went through and used that logic to prune my contacts to reflect that. I'd strongly encourage others to prune, prune, prune!*
Your network will define who you are. LinkedIn knows this and is getting serious about trying to sift through and help you make meaningful conclusions as well as build your online reputation from all of this data by making such high profile hires as Daniel Tunkelang (former Google Scientist and Tech Lead). On Facebook, I tend to use similar rules with my connections, however, I tend to think of my Facebook network as my "personal" network, and it's just that -- private and not available for public scrutiny.
Public vs. Private
Whether we like it or not, the web has always favored transparency. As you choose to become "less discoverable," you are less likely to have recruiters go after you, be discovered by other people who want to do business with you, etc. Many people (myself included) err on the side of being too private versus too public and thus a lot of professionals tend to be under-exposed. Would you feel comfortable with your Facebook profile being shared with the world? Usually, the answer is "no." However, from day 1, your LinkedIn profile has had a public component to it resulting in an innate difference.
In one of my last posts this week, I will share additional insights in how to take advantage of some the lesser known features of LinkedIn and improving your profile.
*There is a subgroup of LinkedIn users called ActiveNetworkers or LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs). These members generally have 500+ connections and have weaker connections in the spirit of serving as key nodes on the social graph to help route traffic. I recently noticed I had a few of these on my list and promptly removed them. In my mind, they were adding noise and reducing the optimal value of my LinkedIn experience.
Sriram Gollapalli is a founder and the Chief Operating Officer of iLab Solutions, based in Cambridge, MA.