InMails and the LinkedIn backfire

A few months back I cleaned up my connections list on LinkedIn. Basically I removed people who I don’t “know”. I defined “know” as knowing someone well enough to connect them to someone else on my network (the trigger for a cleanup was when someone asked me to connect them to someone else on my network who I hardly knew).

The interesting thing about the cleanup was that a lot of the spurious connections I had on LinkedIn were headhunters. Thinking back at how they got in touch with me, in most cases it was with respect to a specific opportunity for which they were finding candidates. Once the specific opportunity had been discussed there was no value of us being connected on LinkedIn, and were effectively deadweight on each other’s networks.

Over the last couple of days, ever since I wrote this piece for Mint on valuation of startup ratchets, I’ve got several connection requests, all from people I don’t know. Normally I wouldn’t accept these invitations, but what is different is that most requests have come with non-standard messages attached. Most have mentioned that they liked my Mint piece and so want to either connect or discuss it.

When you want to simply exchange messages with someone, there is no need to really add them as a “friend”. Except that LinkedIn’s pricing policy makes this kind of behaviour rational.

LinkedIn offers a small number of “InMails” which you can send to people who you aren’t directly connected to. Beyond this number, each InMail costs you money. So if you want to have a discussion with someone you’re not connected with, there’s an element on friction.

There’s a loophole, however. You can send messages for free as long as they go along with a connection request. And if that request is accepted, then you can have a “free” conversation with that person.

So given the current price structure, if you want to have a conversation with someone, you simply send your initial message as part of a friend request. If the person wants to continue the conversation, the request will get accepted. If not you haven’t lost anything!

Then again, there are mitigating features – an InMail won’t get charged unless there is a reply, and LinkedIn’s UI is so bad that it takes effort to read messages attached to connection requests. So this method is not foolproof.

Still, it appears that LinkedIn’s pricing practice (of charging for InMails) is destroying the quality of the network by including spurious links. I guess they’ve done a cost-benefit analysis and believe that the cost of spurious connections is far lower than the revenue they make from InMails!

 

Sweet nothings

The problem with a long-distance relationship is that there is only one way you can spend time with each other – by talking to each other. Of course there are many ways of doing this now, given the advances in communication technologies – text chat, voice chat, video chat, …

But as you can see, the common thing to all this is chat. And to chat, you need things to chat about. Which means that the amount of time you spend with each other is limited by how interesting your days have been and what you have to say to each other.

It is a rather common occurrence that you want to spend more time with each other than what what you have to say to each other dictates, and in such times, you have a few options.

You could talk about everyday happenings like the weather or some news or sports (extremely unlikely, though, that a couple will spend time discussing sports). Another popular option is repeatedly saying lovey-dovey things such as “I love you” or “I miss you”, so that you prolong the conversation. You could even tell each other the mundane details of your lives that day, like “and then I got into bus 37 and … “. Else you could talk about your respective mental states, like “I got so psyched out while writing this algorithm this morning” or “I felt so happy I answered that question in class”. And so forth.

While all of these make for excellent fillers, and help you spend more time with each other by way of creating things to talk about, the problem is that they seldom add value (except perhaps for small doses of lovey-dovey talk). And when you over-indulge in filler conversations, they end up subtracting value from your conversation by overemphasising attention on the mundane at the cost of talk with positive information content.

Contrast this with a “normal” relationship where there are so many other ways of spending time with each other other than talking – I don’t need to enumerate them here.

In other words, when you do long distance, you only have access to a small subset of your relationship. Which makes long distance hard. And occasionally makes you go mad.

PS: tools such as FaceTime allow you to “virtually be with each other” by dialling and then going about with your own lives. But you are still stuck to the fixed point which is the computer, and that means whatever life you go about is unreal, and that can further add to the pressure! And hence subtract value.

 

I don’t know what to name this bias

So yet again I’m at that point in my life when I’m pondering about my career, pulling up my socks and asking myself uncomfortable questions. I’m asking myself what it is I really want to do, what it is that I really enjoy, what is the best way I can monetize my skills and the like. I’ve been pondering between radically different alternatives – from staying on in Wall Street to becoming a hippie; from becoming a professor to starting a company. I’ve been thoroughly confused and have been talking to a number of people about this.

The one common strand I extract from my conversations with all these people is that most people give you advice that is aligned with what they are doing. When I talk to the prof, he talks to me about becoming a prof, and about why I’m suited for it. When I talk to the corporate whore, he tries to convince me that there’s no way out from corporate whoredom and that I must simply embrace and accept it. When I ask the hippie, he thinks it’s no big deal if I keep switching jobs, and that I’m being dishonest with myself continuing to do something I don’t enjoy. And the entrepreneur tries his best to push me into becoming an entrepreneur.

Given my thoroughly confused state of mind, all this has been mostly adding to the confusion, but now that I’ve managed to extract this common strand, I been able to add the appropriate amount of spices to all the advice I’ve received, and making more sense of it. While I continue to figure out what’s the best course of action for me, I wonder what it is that makes people want other people to be like them.

I must mention that this is not a recent phenomenon. Back when I was in college, I remember talking to a senior who went into consulting, and he convinced me that I should do that, too. The banker talked about how banking is perfect for my skills. Till I was in 10th standard, I had no clue about the existence of IIT until a rocket scientist uncle told me about it, and about how going there would be the best thing I could do.

Of all the people who have given me career advice, perhaps the only person who didn’t clearly show this kind of bias was my father. He was an accountant, and he used to work as a regulator. And right from the beginning he made it clear to me that I should neither become an accountant nor should I work for the government.

And I’m trying to think of what kind of advice I dish out. Perhaps because I don’t have one clear “career axis”, I don’t really show this kind of a bias. Or maybe it’s hereditary.

Google Plus – Initial thoughts

Hareesh sent me an invite for Google Plus early on Wednesday morning. Thinking it’s another stupid thing like Wave, I ignored it. But feedback from twitter revealed that the product did show some promise, so later that evening I joined it. I’ve got some 150 friends already (god knows how long it took me to get to so many with either Orkut or Facebook), though I haven’t started using it yet. Some initial thoughts:

  • I like the concept of circles, and that it’s so easy to segregate your friends. This has become a huge problem in social networking, especially after all uncles and aunties got on to facebook. So far I’ve made an attempt to classify all my contacts into disjoint circles of “friends” “family” and “acquaintances”. I also like it that circles need not be disjoint, so I can make an exception to my rule and put the wife in both “friends” and “family”
  • I like that it’s a directed graph. That you can follow the public posts of someone without them having to follow you back. I don’t know why but I simply like this. I hate putting friendship requests and waiting endlessly for responses and stuff. So this directed stuff makes a lot of sense for me.
  • I need to find out how to import my blog there. Then I can close my blog feed on facebook which is infested with uncles and aunties. On Plus, they’ll be safely tucked away in the “family” circle which won’t be able to see much.
  • I don’t like being the “cut-vertex”. I don’t like being the one guy who links two subgroups of a larger group. On a similar note, I don’t like to go out simultaneously with disjoint sets of friends (i.e. two groups that didn’t know each other previously). I feel too tense trying to make sure everyone’s comfortable and clued in on what’s happening. Similar with conversations on facebook. So yeah, I’ll probably segregate my circles further and have more cliquey groups.
  • Again, directed graph means I can peacefully put ignore to people, without appearing rude. On FB, if some uncle comments and I don’t respond, he might take offense, and I’ll be cognizant of the fact that he takes offence. And I force myself to reply. On G+, if i”m not following him, I can peacefully put well left. Like I sometimes do to @Replies to me on twitter from people who I don’t follow

So seems promising. Too early to say if it’ll make me give up both twitter and facebook. I’m sure I won’t give up twitter for sure. Let’s wait and see.

Barista Update

The Barista at Barton Center on MG Road has suddenly become so much more bearable, as they have turned down the volume of their music to a level such that you can actually have conversation without shouting. On a related note, it seems much easier to find tables there compared to earlier (yesterday we walked in around 6 and found several tables empty; earlier there would be a long wait at that time).

On yet another related note, they seem to have done something about the pricing. It’s friggin’ expensive now (70 bucks for a small cappuccino?) but I think they’ve gotten it right. There is obvious value in the restaurant as shown by the long waiting lines that used to be there earlier, and the restaurant is now simply monetizing that value rather than using artificial means (loud music) to chase people away.

As a former revenue management professional (damn; that sounds so corporate whoreish) I’m happy they are doing what a coffee shop like them is supposed to do – providing excellent environment for long conversations and chilled out afternoons, and actually charging for what it’s worth.

The earlier method was so cheap and country – they were clearly underpriced because of which there was overcrowding and they weren’t able to meet demand and had to use other measures such as playing loud godawful music to keep the crowd rotating.

Two thumbs up to Barista’s new pricing and music policy!

Arranged Scissors 12 – Rejection Sharing Agreements

This is similar to the Klose-Podolski corollary to the Goalkeeper Theory. To refresh your memory, or to fresh it in case I haven’t mentioned this earlier, the Klose-Podolski corollary refers to a case of two close friends who decide to hit on the same person. The implicit understanding is that they don’t regard each other as rivals but blade together, and first get rid of all the other suitors before they engage in one last showdown so that the bladee picks one of them.

We came up with this corollary to the Goalkeeper Theory shortly after the 2006 Football World Cup, during which Klose and Podolki formed a cracking strike partnership for Germany. Later on, they were to play together for Bayerrn Munchen, but like most Klose-Podolski arrangements, they too ended up in bitterness with Poodolski (who scored the lesser number of goals among the two) publicly voicing his bitterness and finally transferring to his “native” Koln.

Now that the crazy digression is out of the way, let me get to the point. Today is the first day of Navaratri, and with the inauspicious “Mahalaya Paksha” having gotten out of the way, arranged scissors is back in full earnest. This also means that I re-enter the market, though I’m still yet to list myself (don’t plan to for a while at least. OTC is said to give superior valuations). And some casual conversation and some not-so-casual phone calls this morning, I have been thinking of the arranged marriage equivalent of the Klose-Podolski arrangement.

So basically, as part of this arrangements, two parties who are looking to hit the same side of the deal strike a deal to share “rejection information” with each other. “Rejection information” can be of the following two types:

  • Today I found out about this girl. She seems to be really good in most respects – good looking, rich, good family background, virgin and all that. But for some (usually random) reason, my son doesn’t want to marry her. Why don’t you try her for your son?
  • Today I found out about this girl. Talked to her, her parents, etc. Doesn’t seem like a good prospect at all. She is either ugly or too “forward” or her family background is bad. I think the chances of her getting along with your son is quite low. Don’t waste your time with her.

Note that both of this is extremely useful information, especially in an illiquid market. What is important here is the nature of people with whom you strike such agreements. The basic thing is that your correlation with them should neither be too low nor too high. Ideally, they should belong to the same/similar caste, should have a fairly similar family background, etc. but the boys shouldn’t be too similar. Yeah, I think that is a fair criterion – they should be as similar as possible in terms of “arranged criteria” but as different as possible in terms of “louvvu criteria”.

Basically if the correlation is too low, then you can’t really trust their judgment on counterparties. On the other hand, if the correlation is too high, then it is extremely likely that they turn out to be “rivals” and that if one party rejects a girl, it’s unlikely that the other party will like the girl. I supppose you get what I’m talking about.

One downside to such agreements that I can think of – it might cause bitterness later on in life, long after the goal has been scored. The feeling that “this guy married a girl that I rejected” or the other way round might come back to haunt you later on in life.

Return to corporate whoredom

Waking up early in the morning
Formal shirt and trousers, neatly pressed
An hour’s commute each way

Conversations by the water cooler
Team lunches; Expense accounts
Hourly coffee breaks

Meetings. Conference calls. Presentations
Studs. Fighters. Free-riders.
Reviews. Deadlines. Status reports.

Salary credit!