Friday, August 24, 2012

Linked In-terface Issues

During the past week, LinkedIn has been rolling out a new interface for its member profiles. In the usual LinkedIn fashion, they neither announced the change, nor offer any explanations to help users cope with the new interface, nor do they say why they made the changes. This is, unfortunately, LinkedIn's normal operating procedure. 

The same attitude is reflected in the actual changes made. Most LinkedIn bloggers and users agree the new appearance is nicer. The user photo is a bit larger. There's more white space and the upper part of the profile (what media people call "above the fold") is cleaner and simpler. But therein lies the problem. In exchange for good looks, LinkedIn has sacrificed the user's abilty to quickly "push" info out to the reader. 

This is hard to explain to anybody who may not have actually seen the new interface. (If you haven't, you are excused for a few minutes to take a look at your or your friends' profiles and see what I'm talking about.)

Yes, most of the same info is available, but hidden. If you haven't already done so, be sure to click on the down arrow next to the Send a message button of somebody you are connected to. Here you will find a menu that let's you:

  • Suggest a Profile Update (a rather cheeky suggestion to start the list with),
  • Recommend, (a non-cheeky and very nice thing to do), 
  • Find References (useful to HR and other people), 
  • Share
  • Export to PDF
  • Save (Which works IF you have a paid LinkedIn account. If you don't, it sends you to a LinkedIn ad page which suggests that you pay for the service.)
  • Flag (useful if you run across an obviously fake LinkedIn profile).

Question to LinkedIn interface engineers, why would a user automatically connect all these functions to sending messages?

However, if the profile you are looking at is for a 2nd degree connection, you see a "Send InMail" button with an attached arrow with a shorter menu:

  • Get introduced,
  • Find references,
  • Share,
  • Export to PDF,
  • Save.

If you aren't connected to the person, you have even fewer choices:

  • -Find references, and
  • -Save.

The choices might be different for those who have a paid LinkedIn account. I wouldn't know.

Click on the Rolodex-card looking button, you can also see contact info for the owner if they supply it: email address, snailmail address, blog and other links, and phone number. The one thing they don't include, which really ticks me off, is the vCard download button (which is what you used to get if you clicked on the Rolodex-card-button. (More on that in a sec.)

So, there's a lot of information available here, but much of it is tucked away behind buttons and clicks. To find some info, like the name of one more employer, or your most recent Status Update, the reader has to scroll down. Other info or tasks are behind a tab or button. The layout of the contact info *is* nicer and it is nice to see it in one place.

However, if you work in HR, recruiting, or sales, you don't see much of the info you're used to without resorting to an extra click or two or three or four. If you believe that extra clicks mean less productivity, then that is a problem. Previously, at a glance, you could see the usual info plus a status update, look at the blog or internet links, and see up to three recent employers. That may have been enough for the reader to decide whether to look further.

The information was pushed out to the reader better in the older view. If you're a job hunter, the change is particularly important, because it makes the people looking for you a little bit less efficient and makes you easier to pass over. (It also puts an exclamation point over the need for a good, professional photo and keywords in your headline.)

OK, now to that vCard link. Most LinkedIn users probably didn't know it was there and won't miss it, that's true. However, those of us who use Outlook or another contact manager on our computer often clicked it. I, for one, liked to add a new contact's photo and contact info to Outlook, along with the date that I connected, and a few relevant comments. (Whether I actually follow up and USE that info is another matter, and might be  the subject of an "I really should do this..."-type blog post.)

Yes, that functionality is still available IF you see your new contact's photo pop up in your home stream. (Click on their name and, when the little popup window, well, pops up, you still see the vCard button -- which also means that LinkedIn is using the same icon for two different functions.) But having somebody show up on your stream is a bit random. Also, that popup screen doesn't pop up if you're viewing from an iPad.

You can also see the same thing in Groups if somebody's post comes up in the discussion list. That's also pretty random.

And, yes, you can download a vCard file of ALL your contacts from your contacts list, but that's like using a machine gun to get rid of crabgrass. It's overkill and unusable for adding one or two contacts.

And, yes, you can copy the info onto your clipboard, then paste it into the notes section of a new Outlook form, and then parse, copy, and paste the info into the correct fields, but that was what the vCard was supposed to automate in the first place.

So, I give LinkedIn a definite Thumbs Down on vCard usage. (And I suspect they will be getting rid of the vCard option on those popups when they get around to it.)

Yes, I agree the new profile look is prettier. No doubt about it. But I don't recall ever hearing a LinkedIn user say, "I'd be so much more effective on LinkedIn if only they had a prettier interface that looks more like Google+!"

So on appearance, I grade the new interface a B-plus. On improved usability, I'd grade it D-minus. On helping users learn how to use the new interface, I'll give LinkedIn the usual F. 

If you are a job hunter on LinkedIn, you better check and make sure that your photo looks professional and that your headline includes the key words for the job you want. And, of course, you need to also do many other things on your profile to make a professional impression.

And if anybody knows of a third-party software solution to add a vCard to my profile, please let me know. It won't help me download any info, but I can at least show LinkedIn that I miss it.