Friday, October 10, 2014

LinkedIn Search and the Illusion of Continuity on the Web

For several years now I've had a set of saved job searches on LinkedIn. Recently, I discovered that LinkedIn had made changes to their search system and that, when I looked at the results of my saved search, the results I thought I was seeing did not match the criteria that defined my saved search for several years. Put simply, LinkedIn broke saved search in such a subtle way that I only realized it recently and I'm not even sure how long it has been broken.

So here's what happened...

A saved job search is a pretty straightforward query. The odds are pretty high that you know what you are looking for and that what you are looking for doesn't change much day to day (except for those days when you think, I wonder what the job situation is like in Hawaii -- I could totally work in Hawaii). If you build a saved search, rather than rebuilding that job query each time you need to use it, you can just run the query and scan through your results. Many job sites will even email you the results so that you don't need to visit their site.

When you're running that kind of a search, it's probably most helpful to view the list with the most recent listings first. Instead of giving you repeats, it's the kind of thing that makes it easier to see what's new. Scroll down until you get to what you saw previously and you're done. It's the way blogs work, news feeds, you name it.

But when LinkedIn revamped their search, suddenly all of those saved searches that used to be sorted by most recent became sort by relevance.

Relevance is helpful if you want somebody to think that the search results are closely aligned with what you were looking for, but it's not very useful for determining changes because the same results will keep ranking near the top.

This is how I realized what happened. I ran my saved search a week or so after the previous time and the job listings were the same. Some of them appeared near the top for nearly a month. I began to look more carefully at why the results looked the way that they did and, low and behold, LinkedIn had changed recent to relevance. You killed my Saved Search! You Bastards!

While my instinct is to blame it on the accidental fall out of a software upgrade, part of me can't escape the idea that it is intentional -- that somebody felt like always defaulting to relevance would make their product look better. Or smarter. And while part of me wants to get angry, another part of me feels like this is the kind of thing that companies just do, like Adobe and their code bloat (when you realize that, with all of the modern faster processor speeds, memory, and drive interfaces, Adobe Photoshop still takes longer to launch now than it did when we were at version 3.5, there is a part of you that wants to rage!).

Anyway, bottom line. LinkedIn sucks. If you have saved searches, you may be seeing results by relevance now. Caveat Emptor. 

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