The Cassandra Articles

Just see what he wants to see.

The Fallacy of LinkedIn Skill Endorsements

LinkedIn has this feature they call "Skill Endorsements" which is a one-click way to endorse someone for a specific skill. You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. visit the person's profile page, scroll all the way to the bottom, then pick a skill to endorse; or
  2. by being prompted by LinkedIn on a special area at the top of some pages.
My focus here is on the validity of those entered through the second method.

The Mystery

It is somewhat mysterious to me as to the when and why you may see this special area at the top of the page, so I am not sure how many have run across it. Let me first describe how it works first.


You will see a pane at the top of the screen with 4 of your contacts. In each of the 4 cells will be the question "Does Person-A known about Skill-B?" You can click on a "yes" button or a "skip" button. In both cases, that cell clears and a new person-skill combination shows up. You can repeat this endlessly and it becomes a little bit like a game of whack-a-mole. It can be mildly addicting once you start.

This super-easy way to peruse random contacts, if you do it, can lead you to very interesting thoughts and behaviors.

The Absurdity

Let's first start with the absurd. Here is an actual endorsement I had LinkedIn ask me about (name was changed):

"Does Johnny B. Goode know about Television?"
Exactly what is LinkedIn asking me? Does Johnny know that televisions exist? Could Johnny win a trivia contest about 90's sit-coms? Or maybe whether or not Johnny could design the electronics for an LCD display? Given such a broad range of possible interpretations, what is the actual value of my clicking "yes" to this question?

Something that sounds a little more skill-specific was:

"Does Maxwell Edison know about Computer Science?"
To someone not in the field, this would seem like a legitimate skill question, but for those in the field, this is just about as generally dumb as asking about television knowledge. Even the least skilled people I have met in the field would qualify as knowing something about Computer Science. And that leads me to my introspective thoughts on exactly what these recommendations are good for.

The Psychology

Suppose I happened to have a person in my contacts that was somewhat weak in some skills (within Computer Science) and they popped up in the recommendation suggestions. While they certainly "know" about Computer Science, should I recommend them? If they happen to be a really nice person whom I might like to help find a job, I probably would. Saying they know something about Computer Science is not misleading or in any way compromising my principles. Or is it?

With such a general question, I can rationalize a decision either way, all coming down to generally whether I "like" the person. Even if the question gets more specific about whether a person "knows" about a skill, it is a slippery slope and you easily begin to conflate liking the person with their skills.

What if you know nothing about the skill area? I have a friend in finance, whom I am sure is very good at his job, but knowing little about finance, am I qualified to judge whether they know something specific in that area? If I highly respect them, then I can deduce they must know something about the area, and may happily answer "yes".

Making this even more psychologically interesting is when the semantics of "skip" start to morph into the equivalent of saying "no". That derives from the nature of only having "yes" and "skip" choices, but can also be compounded when for your previous "skip" choices, you really did mean "no". This results in choosing "yes" in cases where "no" seems too harsh a judgement for the person.

The Conclusion

These skill recommendations mean something, but they do not have any meaning in the context of a specific skill. The skill areas themselves are chosen by the person, so gives a general idea of the things they have worked on, but the recommendations is likely more to do with popularity or their personality than it does with their proficiency in a skill.

Excerpt from Cruise of the Snark

The Snark

The ultimate word is I LIKE. It lies beneath philosophy, and is twined about the heart of life. When philosophy has maundered ponderously for a month, telling the individual what he must do, the individual says, in an instant, "I LIKE," and does something else, and philosophy goes glimmering. It is I LIKE that makes the drunkard drink and the martyr wear a hair shirt; that makes one man a reveller and another man an anchorite; that makes one man pursue fame, another gold, another love, and another God. Philosophy is very often a man's way of explaining his own I LIKE.