Ask Conlan: LinkedOut

Some girl, who apparently has a big head (her words), writes (edited for capitalization, punctuation, and linking purposes; no offense):

I’ve had a LinkedIn account for like 7 months, and I don’t know how to use it or what it’s for… maybe you should write a blog about that like you did for Twitter, eh?

The Other Half of the One In Yosemite
Some Province, Canada

Greetings, my great white friend to the north. I would be happy to guide you through the intricacies of the cultural phenomenon known as LinkedIn. The key to the future is—as it must be—the past.

Started in 2002 by a couple of plucky college dropouts in Santa Clara, CA, LinkedIn was originally a softcore S&M pornography website called ChainedUp. I won’t go into detail about the content, but you know the kind: lots of leather and chains and whips and stuffed animals (fabricated) and light bulbs and stuffed animals (taxidermic) and motor oil. It was popular with the technology crowd, and many of its models were culled from the newly unemployed ranks of the burst dot-com bubble.

The site also featured a message board where potential models, photographers, videographers, actors, and taxidermists could communicate and coordinate their projects. Inevitably, these professionals began referring their colleagues to others in the industry, facilitating new connections and new opportunities amongst themselves.

Soon, the ChainedUp message board became a hub for professionals in the softcore S&M pornography industry. Even models and leather tanners who had no involvement in the actual content of ChainedUp were using it to connect with others for jobs. The administrators recognized the utility of this and implemented a profile system, not unlike the sure-to-be-a-success Friendster website. Now each model, actor, leatheriér, iron worker, photographer, electrician, and cetera were clearly identified and could “link” to others they had worked with and recommended (the whole “link” motif fit well with their content too).

Wired magazine called the whole setup “pretty effin’ clever” and “a boon for the softcore S&M porn industry, which has really been lacking in quality these last few years.”

Then something amazing happened: a human resources director from Chicago, who had nothing to do with softcore S&M pornography, created a profile. There was an initial outcry from some in the community about this clear abuse of the Terms of Service, but the ChainedUp executive team was inspired. In an interview with Valley of Silicon Daily, one of the founders (who wished to remain anonymous) recalls the discussion in the boardroom/garage: “We were all like, ‘Dude, we could make hella more money if we let everybody in.'” And that’s just what they did. Due to some limited concern about the connotations of the name and the ball-gag theme of the site, in late 2005 ChainedUp underwent an overhaul. It emerged as LinkedIn, the fresh Web 2.0 property that it is today.*

Now, the “MySpace for People With Jobs” serves as a networking portal to connect with those in your industry and others. You can harness the unstoppable power of the internet to create new opportunities. You can discuss professional issues, build partnerships, and feel popular, just as efficiently as those porno stars of yore.

While LinkedIn now bears little resemblance to its humble, smutty beginnings, some traces do remain. In the search box at the top right of their homepage, if you select “Search Groups” and type “softcore s&m”, you will find over 340 unique results, as of this writing. It is a fitting tribute to the industrious “almostitutes” who pioneered one of the great internet tools of the decade.

For more information, click here.

* It is worth noting for historical purposes that Jeff Martins, the human resources director, admitted years later that he was just trying to find out where to buy some high-quality ass-less chaps (his were chafing), and never intended to become some sort of bang bus Rosa Parks.