LinkedIn is about finding people for projects or collaboration, and helping your connections do the same. LinkedIn makes your network more efficient, letting you keep in touch with the people you know and find the people you don't, but who are only a step away.
The comments on Joi's post, including my own, uncover a certain level of confusion people are having with the site that, I think, lies in the site's trademark: "Your network is bigger than you think™".
LinkedIn works around those lines (and the padawan draws this from his own fresh experience of self registration at the site, which does not allow him to do much at this point):
- You describe your professional self (what you do, your expertise, your goals and interests). The important point seems that this will categorize you to, I'm only guessing here, facilitate searches among the networks.
- You invite people you know to your network. The people you have invited are your connections.
- Once your network is not empty (and only then) you can perform searches and queries through your close connections.
The key point here is clearly not to help you discover new people directly (someone calls that trolling). A member can send you a request but (from the FAQ) "that request must pass through a chain of linked members, any of whom can decline to forward that request if they think it is not a good one. The last person to forward that request will be a friend or colleague (your connection)."
While I certainly see how this can help existing networks of professionals in some way, this approach suspiciously looks like an online and geeky version of the traditional, invitation only, private English club. I am no one to criticize that, nor is my intention to, but I still have to see how this translates to the promise that my network is bigger than I think through a process that is (again at a first glance) simply unnatural to me.
A key aspect of networking, to me, is the discovery. I am a public person in my company in the sense that I get contacted by all sorts of people who know me while I don't know them, with no entry barrier (no one or nothing will prevent you to email or phone me directly). The LinkedIn service is certainly useful but not meant to help you get discovered by an established network.
Adam Greenfield makes a point about "semantic-Web standard for friendship, affinity, reputation" and a constructive build on how a different approach could better "catalyze huge changes in the way we socialize, connect, associate and construct our lives."
That said, I would love to be invited to the party, so if you're within an established LinkedIn network that needs an Internet guru, webmonkey or chaos manager, please feel free to invite the padawan!