On September 12th, a change in the terms of service at LinkedIn will take effect, allowing users as young as 13 to join the website. The rationale behind this change is the addition of "University Pages" on LinkedIn, a feature that purportedly allows students to search for a university that's the right fit for them.
This new foray into teenage social networking is rather far away from the original purpose of LinkedIn. Will this scope-widening change be the poison pill that ultimately relegates LinkedIn to the failed social networking ranks of MySpace and Xanga?
First off, LinkedIn's University Pages feature itself is somewhat lacking. With any rollout of a new service, it takes some time to add more users, but as it stands, the University Pages feature will launch with 200 participating institutions across the world. This is far from exhaustive; though it's quite likely they'll be able to lure the marketing departments of other institutions to join the initiative.
But LinkedIn is running into the chicken-and-egg problem: There's no point for universities to extend their likely thin (or perhaps just thinning) public relations team to maintain a presence on a website that prospective students would not be using, and those searching wouldn't bother to sign up to search for universities on a site that contains profiles for such a small percentage of institutions worldwide.
It would follow that their time would be better spent courting potential students on websites where they actually presently congregate—that is to say, Facebook. Accordingly, joining LinkedIn for the purpose of getting what is, in essence, regurgitated information one could otherwise easily find on Google is a poor use of time and a poor value proposition for the extra step.
The second major problem in this endeavor, as readers with children or nieces and nephews (or otherwise happen to have friended 13-year-olds on Facebook) would surmise, is that teenagers rarely display the level of professionalism you would hope to find on LinkedIn. Accordingly, this move would likely serve to disrupt the natural flow of what you would presume at least approaches intelligent discourse on LinkedIn.
This isn't to say that LinkedIn is some bastion of intelligence or civility, but to put it bluntly, discussion of less-than-professional activities (e.g., blunts, and the smoking of them, among others) would likely result.
A substantial lowering of the level of professionalism in the LinkedIn community could send users away in droves, and this change could be the impetus behind such an exodus. The decline of MySpace can be attributed chiefly to an influx of adults on what had been essentially a party lacking adult supervision, and users tiring of aesthetically distressing custom themes found on profile pages. A sudden influx of teenagers on a website intended for career professionals would, it would follow, cause something of an upheaval on LinkedIn.
This isn't the only change that could undermine the superiority that LinkedIn enjoys. The introduction of the "Endorsements" feature late last year is a somewhat hollow attempt at adding further value to the social network. Endorsements are circular, given between friends without any form of outside verification, and don't require the endorser to be qualified in any way in the subject of the field in which they endorse someone else. Consequently, people are being endorsed for skills they may well not actually possess, and for skills that people only continue to begrudgingly practice at the expense of their own mental health.
Of minor importance, the new lower age limits worldwide are set at 13, except users for the United States, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, and South Korea, who must wait until age 14. Dutch users can register at age 16. Perhaps most out of luck in this change are Chinese children, by far the most likely in this group to have already started a career, and therefore properly merit a LinkedIn account, as they must continue to wait until age 18.
What are your opinions of this change by LinkedIn to lower the age limit of registration to age 13? Share them with us in the comments section below.
James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware.