What’s the freakin’ deal with all these LinkedIn endorsements?

I'll endorse you if you endorse me. But do LinkedIn endorsements have any value at all?

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Stop me if this sounds familiar. You open your inbox one morning and see a message from an old work colleague named Bob, sent via LinkedIn. It looks something like this:

Eager to find out what wonderful things Bob has to say about you, you click the “See endorsements” link in the message, where you are then thrust into a series of ethical and moral dilemmas.

First, of course, is the question, What about Bob? Should you reciprocate and endorse him back? It is after all the polite thing to do, even if Bob is a knuckle-dragging troglodyte with personal hygiene issues who couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the c and the t. Everyone has some good inside them and – more important – Bob might one day be in a position to offer you a job.

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So you dutifully visit Bob’s profile, endorse him for his Strategic Planning and Microsoft Excel skills, and add a few new ones to his CV, like “Eating” and “Breathing.”

But wait, you’re not done. LinkedIn now wants you to endorse four more of your contacts for their various and sundry skills. In fact, LinkedIn’s going to make it easy for you by letting you endorse all four at once by clicking a single button. And, because you’re in a generous mood, it will let you click that Endorse all 4 button again and again and again.

In less than a minute, you’ve become a virtual recommendations engine, spewing out kind words about gracefully aging colleagues and people you may have once met at a cocktail party, maybe. And of course, having received your endorsements, most if not all of these folks will feel obligated to scratch your virtual back by endorsing you in return.

It is stupidly easy. Just messing around, I endorsed 100 people in less than two minutes -- click click click click --  and I could have seemingly kept going forever, if I didn’t get bored.

The question, of course: Are these endorsements worth the paper they’re not printed on? That depends on whom you talk to.

If you’re using the service as intended, says LinkedIn spokesperson Julie Inouye, you should only be connected to people you actually know, and you should only be endorsing them for skills they actually have. From that perspective, offering one-click endorsements is much easier and faster than asking people to crank out a written recommendation.

“It takes the writers block out of the equation,” she says. And it gives your colleagues a chance to add skills you have but may not have thought to add to your profile, she adds. For example, her LinkedIn profile boasts 14 endorsements for event planning, a skill that someone else suggested for her.

From LinkedIn’s point of view, endorsements have been wildly successful, coming in at a rate of more than 10 million a day – more than 500 million since LinkedIn rolled out the program last September. Some 95 percent of the new skill endorsements suggested by colleagues are ultimately accepted by the endorsees, adds Inouye.

On the flip side, LinkedIn has made it far easier to make connections with near-total strangers; once you connect with someone, it serves up an endless stream of suggestions for more people you may or may not know, based on who is in your network.

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