LinkedIn Forums, How Do I Despise Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

June 29, 2010

Yesterday I got this interesting tidbit posted by Bill Town to the CHMINF-L mailing list:

From: Bill Town <###@###.com>

Subject: [CHMINF-L] FW: New comment on "ACS Loses Appeal of Leadscope Case"

To: CHMINF-L@LISTSERV.INDIANA.EDU

Date: Monday, June 28, 2010, 9:44 PM

This is becoming a very active discussion on LinkedIn Groups

The Topic at Hand

For those who may not have seen it, the American Chemical Society (ACS) lost the most recent (and possibly final) round in its ongoing legal conflict with LeadScope. By the ACS' own accounting, this loss could cost the society $40 Million in penalties, fees, and interest.

But this article isn't about the case; it's about how we discuss it with each other.

It's on the LinkedIn Forum

I wanted to have a look at the LinkedIn discussion that was taking place. Not being a member of that group, I needed to sign up. After going through the trouble to get added to the ACS LinkedIn group, I was sent an email to, of all things, email my ACS member number to <J_Taylor@acs.org>.

Phishing anyone? If ACS member numbers are held in such low regard by the ACS itself, security-wise, why use them at all?

Upon sending my ACS member number to Ms. Taylor (with reservations) I got an out-of-the-office reply:

I will be out of the office June 15th through June 30th and will be unable to respond to email during that time. If your request is urgent, please contact Karen Torres at k_torres@acs.org or call (800) 227-5558. Otherwise I will respond to your email as soon as possible.

Thanks,

Jennifer

So not only was I a party to bad internet security policy, I wasted 20 minutes to boot. I was able to view the LinkedIn discussion on this topic (although not repeatably), but not post. But these technical annoyances are not the main problem.

The Real Problem

As you might guess, I'm not a fan of using LinkedIn to host online conversations. The problem: LinkedIn forums are a walled garden closed and invisible to the outside world. If you want to participate in a public discussion of a substantive topic, with a chance for your views to be read by and influence the widest possible audience, LinkedIn forums are a very bad place to invest your time.

To show just how bad LinkedIn groups are at hosting conversation, I did a little experiment awhile ago, in which I lifted a LinkedIn discussion on electronic laboratory notebooks and posted the key points to Depth-First.

Do a Google search for 'electronic laboratory notebook' today, and it's one of the top results, and has been for over a year. The post has been viewed over 5,000 times, according to Google Analytics. The LinkedIn discussion is nowhere to be found (I couldn't even hyperlink it sensibly in my post).

Ironically, if you do a Google search for 'acs leadscope', my post on the ACS Leadscope case comes up in the top 5, with not a hint of the LinkedIn conversation taking place on the ACS LinkedIn forum.

Then there's the outright spam (also known as press releases) on most of the LinkedIn forums I've seen and general lack of commitment to keeping it out.

Bottom Line

LinkedIn is good for many things, but hosting online conversations is not one of them. I encourage anyone who cares about getting real responses and visibilty to their messages or questions to use the right tool for the job. Start a blog, post a comment to one, or use an open forum such as ChemVoice, Chempedia Lab, Chemistry Reddit, Chemical Forums, FriendFeed, or Blue Obelisk Exchange instead.