Are LinkedIn’s “Top Influencers” really just “Top Provocateurs”?

LinkedIn Logo

What does it mean to be a person who is influential?  I think most people say it’s about the ability to be persuasive.  And that’s a tough quality to measure.  But my many friends in the media try it all the time.  Influence is often assumed to directly correlated to the size of an audience someone has – if a large number of people pay attention to what a person says – voluntarily or involuntarily – that person is said to be influential.   A magazine is thought to be influential based on the number of readers it has.  The same is true with books, movies, etc.

LinkedIn has a measure they call “Top Influencers This Week”, it’s a box that displays the names and pictures of the individuals LinkedIn has determined are the most influential among LinkedIn users.  I ‘ve been noticing this feature lately because of an online discussion I’ve been monitoring within the Mensan community at LinkedIn.  The discussion is on the topic of the U.S. Constitution, citizen’s rights, gun control laws, and the aftermath of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT.  I made the mistake of posting a comment or two at the beginning of the thread, which I generally don’t do, I try to stay out of political discussions at a professionally-oriented site like LinkedIn.  But there were a few fundamental misrepresentations of U.S. law that I figured might be a typo but were important to address, so I did.  Big mistake.  My email inbox has been flooded since with every comment since then, and even though I’ve gone back and deleted my original comments to try to get it to stop, they continue – I just received another two dozen comments in my inbox this morning.  Maybe there’s a “follow this discussion” box I can uncheck somewhere, but I haven’t looked yet.  But I digress.

Watching this discussion is making me aware of the LinkedIn “Top Influencer” feature.  The person who originated the discussion thread is currently listed as the number two “Top Influencer This Week” at LinkedIn, if I’m reading this correctly.  Another person in the discussion thread, who I believe has originated other discussions elsewhere on the site, is listed as the fifth most influential as I write this.

Here’s the problem: those two individuals are clearly in the minority of the discussion.  They aren’t influencing anyone, they are provoking most of the responses, and most comments are at odds with the two “top influencers”.  The reason LinkedIn charts them as “Top Influencer” is merely because they started a thread that got a lot of people involved.  But the majority of those people who are involved are arguing against the positions of the two “Top Influencers”.

So are these folks really “influencers”?  Perhaps LinkedIn should rename that feature “Top Provocateurs”, because that’s really all that is happening there.

So beware:  just because you’re told someone or something is at the “top” of any chart, be sure you know what the metrics are based on.

I hope I’ve managed to influence your thinking on this important aspect of data analysis.


DHS Warning About Java: Update

Several days ago I wrote a blog post about the warning from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the use of Java.  DHS had gone so far as to advise users to disable Java in their browsers.

A few words of clarification:  as many of you surely know, Java is not JavaScript.  Those are totally different and unrelated languages, in spite of the unfortunately similar wording.

Second, by warning users to turn of Java in their browsers, DHS is essentially telling them to disable Java applets, which are the only form of Java programs that can run in a browser.  Applets are small programs that exist on websites, and that download to your browser, and execute on your own local computer, all within a container that is intended to prevent it from doing anything to your computer without your express permission.  Generally the only thing an applet is allowed to do is present data visually and accept typed or other forms of input from the end-user.  Frankly, that’s not how most Java-based systems work today.  Most Java-based systems consist of Java programs that run elsewhere – within mobile devices, or on servers in all sorts of forms.  Lots of websites use Java on the server side and never send applets to their end-users browsers.  So you may still be visiting a website that runs Java on the server side, and that never sends executable code to your browser, it probably only serves up completed web pages, and that’s fine, you’ll be safe insofar as the DHS warning is concerned.

So now it’s February 3, 2013 (Super Bowl Sunday incidentally), and yet – still no apparent conclusion to the Java situation.

Technology News Logo

The most recent article I can find right now is Taking the Java Bull by the Horns by Patrick Nelson at Technology News, published Jan. 31, 2013, and it says this:

even though Oracle has made some efforts to patch the flaws, DHS hasn’t lifted its warning … As of Jan. 22, 2013, the current version of Java is Version 7, Update 11. The latest version includes fixes for issues raised by DHS as well as other issues. It also sets security settings to “High.” … You may decide that it’s prudent to switch off Java altogether. New Java vulnerabilities are likely to be discovered, according to DHS’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team.

The article also includes step-by-step instructions for performing upgrades and adjusting security settings in your browser.

We’ll keep an eye on this.  I think many of us are so busy working in non-applet areas that we’re not all that concerned.  However, I know firsthand of one company that internally uses an applet-drive software tool for internal corporate communications, and they’ve recently made the call to shut it down until this issue is resolved.  It’s disruptive for sure.

Stay tuned.