It’s a new world for how we do business online these days. There is a constant struggle between designing what is an optimal user experience for your customers and one which will (presumably) have a greater impact on the overall business goals for your product or company. More often than not, the business needs win over the user experience. What isn’t so evident at times is the impact those decisions will have on a greater scale. This is one example that illustrates why business owners and stake-holders should always consult with a UX professional and take a serious look when the recommendations of those professionals aren’t necessarily what they want to hear.
I’ve been a long-time user and founding member of LinkedIn. I think it’s a fantastic site and provides real value while providing a quality service for both its users and paying customers (e.g. recruiters looking for top talent and sales professionals looking to connect with potential clients, etc.). Slowly over the years I’ve witnessed the declining user experience (not from a design perspective but rather a value for me as a user) as LinkedIn has looked for ways to monetize their business. Hey, I get it – the investors and shareholders want to see a return on that investment and they need to keep the lights on, we can’t get a free ride for ever. Nobody can argue with that. The problem is that LinkedIn’s services and offerings which bring in the revenue depend on one key factor…MY / YOUR PERSONAL DATA. They can only make money if the community at large decides to voluntarily give them that data. In return, we get the benefit of connecting with colleagues, classmates, friends and recruiters. Fair enough.
So it strikes a real nerve when features that were once included, get taken away…not because they want to monetize that feature, but because of a perceived “value” that doing so will provide. Disclaimer: For all I know I may be part of an A/B test and this is something only selected accounts are seeing at this point, I can’t say one way or the other). What I can tell you is that my experience today is different than it was yesterday. Today LinkedIn rolled out a new “feature” around the “Who’s Viewed My Profile” widget. Previously one could set their privacy settings so that you could safely and anonymously view other members profiles without them thinking you are a stalker. Conversely, corporate HR departments and recruiters could safely search for a candidate and not worry that they would get bombarded with unsolicited requests to connect in hopes of getting a new job. Anonymity and privacy are key to this feature actually being used.
Today’s new experience requires you to REMOVE that privacy setting (and set it to reveal your full name and headline) in order for you to see the results of who’s viewed your profile. That is simply inexcusable. You don’t require someone to give up their right to privacy in order to view something that was available previously. It violates the users trust and really creates a lot of questions around where they are heading with regards to my private data that I am allowing them to use and monetize. To add insult to injury, if you decide to allow LinkedIn to change your privacy settings in order to see the results, you are presented with ZERO results and a nice offer to “upgrade” your account if you want to see the results. Without a questionable doubt, an EPIC failboat of a user experience and violation of trust.
I wasn’t a happy camper when this feature was stripped down for those who have a basic account, but at least it let me see that there was activity on my profile and a general idea of what kind of folks were hitting on my profile. That kind of information does actually help someone fine tune their profile for optimal results when it comes to getting noticed or “found” on LinkedIn. Now with the new requirements, that widget is effectively completely useless and wasting valuable screen real estate which I could use for what I consider more pertinent information. The new widget has just become a bait and switch ad. Excellent. <insert sarcasm here> :-\
My hopes are that I am in the minority of users who will ever see this and that my experience was no more than a typical A/B test that we use widely in usability to gauge the success or failure of a certain design. I am a huge fan of LinkedIn so I’m praying for a fix soon. My advice to them would be to simply be transparent and straight with what we get with a basic versus pro account and not change the terms at will. Reward your long time users who have helped you achieve success, don’t nickel and dime them for functionality that should be there to begin with.
What do you guys think? Sound off in the comments and let me know if you are seeing the same results and how you feel about having to give up your privacy for this basic feature.