Do You Really Know the Size of Your LinkedIn Network?

Posted by | January 05, 2011 | LinkedIn | 16 Comments

 

When people talk about the size of their LinkedIn network, many make reference to the “Total users you can contact through an Introduction” number, which is the total of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections.

However, many people don’t know that the number representing LinkedIn users three degrees away from you is just an estimate.

Yes, you read that right – it’s not the actual number of your 3rd degree connections on LinkedIn. Which means the total number is also an estimate.

How do I know?

Not too long ago, I had 2 people in my network reach out to me inquiring about my thoughts as to why their 3rd degree connections dropped by several million connections overnight. I had the same thing happen to me about 2 years ago and I never was able to figure out what exactly happened or why. As usual, Eric Jaquith wasn’t satisfied with letting the mystery lie, so he did some digging and sent me an interesting link.

A LinkedIn representative responded to a number of complaints and questions on getsatisfaction.com regarding the sudden deflation of some users’ LinkedIn network connection numbers and mentioned that the number of third degree connections is “purely used for display purposes.”

Perhaps the + sign at the end of the numbers of your second, third degree and total LinkedIn connections gives us a hint that they aren’t exact figures…

I encourage you to take the time to read through the entire thread on GetSatisfaction.com – it’s really quite interesting.

You will learn that LinkedIn uses an algorithm to estimate your third degree connections and that they tweak it from time to time, which can cause issues for some people whereby their third degree connections can be overinflated or underestimated.  You can also see one of the most connected people on all of LinkedIn demonstrate how when he added 1st degree connections, his total network decreased in size.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up Anyway

Have you ever really taken a critical look at the numbers of your first, second and third degree connections on LinkedIn?

Using my network, if I divide my second degree connections by my first degree connections, I get 214. That means that each one of my direct connections is connected to an average of 214 people. That seems reasonable.

However, if I divide my third degree connections by my second degree connections, I get 4.

Unless I am missing something, that would mean that each one of my second degree connections is only connected to an average 4 people. Possible, but highly improbable. If each of my second degree connections averaged just 10 connections, I could theoretically have approximately 40,000,000 third degree connections.

Hmm.

Does the Number Really Matter?

No, not really.

While it would certainly be nice to know exactly how many third degree connections you have on LinkedIn, this number doesn’t affect your ability to access people in your third degree network. If you run a search on LinkedIn, you will see everyone who is in your third degree network that matches your search criteria.

In the past, your third degree was especially important because it represented how many people you could actually view in a search. Now, anyone can see any profile, although of course with recent changes, you can only see the first name and last initial of third degree and group-only connections, and as always – you cannot see that names of people beyond your third degree (although you can still see the profile).

So How Big Is Your LinkedIn Network?

No one really knows except LinkedIn. :-)

But I am curious.

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About Glen Cathey

Glen Cathey is a sourcing and recruiting thought leader with over 16 years of experience working in large staffing agency and global RPO environments (>1,000 recruiters and nearly 100,000 hires annually). Starting out his career as a top producing recruiter, he quickly advanced into senior management roles and now currently serves as the SVP of Strategic Talent Acquisition and Innovation for Kforce, working out of their renowned National Recruiting Center with over 300 recruiters. Often requested to speak on sourcing and recruiting best practices, trends and strategies, Glen has traveled internationally to present at many talent acquisition conferences (5X LinkedIn Talent Connect - U.S. '10, '11, '12, Toronto '12, London '12, 2X Australasian Talent Conference - Sydney & Melbourne '11, '12, 6X SourceCon, 2X TruLondon, 2X HCI) and is regularly requested to present to companies (e.g., PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen Hamilton, Citigroup, etc.). This blog is his personal passion and does not represent the views or opinions of anyone other than himself.

  • http://www.techtrak.com Maureen Sharib

    So shouldn’t that be a -/+ figure at the end of those numbers?

  • http://karlaporter.com Karla Porter

    Nice detective work Glen. I agree, it’s nice to know but really not of great importance when you drill down to what you can really accomplish with the information. It’s a fluff piece for LinkedIn – which otherwise rocks the socks off any other professional networking platform as far as I am concerned.

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  • Brad

    Interesting topic for trivia. When calc’ing connections, one thing to consider is need to focus on “unique” connections vs. raw connections at each level. So while the math seems right, it doesn’t account for overlapping connections. Either way, the drop in “avg connections” does seem dramatic.

  • http://magicsourcer.wordpress.com/ Sarang Brahme

    Glen,

    You are really after LinkedIn’s algorithm :)

    I am curious but not really sure about the specific pattern they have for showing results and calculating connection numbers. While there is a guided theory – but not 100% practical results is what I can say.

    About your point for 2nd to 3rd level connections – I think the ratio is less because as you increase your connections; the duplication starts. Hence, you have lot of people connecting to same person in second layer which decreases the actual 3rd level numbers. At the end it’s a small world :)

    I think LI should seriously improve these areas of operations.

    Sarang

  • http://www.recruit2.com Jacco Valkenburg

    Hi Glen, interesting topic again. I do know exactly the number of my 2nd degree connections (and first of course).

    This is what my network statistics tell me:
    639,600+

    Conducting a search via LinkedIn Recruiter:
    First 1,218
    Second 638,803
    Total 1st + 2nd= 640,021

    Pretty accurate. Hope this helps!

  • http://linkedin.com/in/jaquith Eric Jaquith

    I have asked thousands of LI users and I have not found anyone with 3rd degree connections over 20 million. Once I was nearly over, only to have an “adjustment” made overnight that reduces my 3rd degree estimate by over 5 million. Ouch! Can anyone in the world reading this show me that they have more the 20 million 3rd degree connections? Why do you think this is?

  • http://marcomhrsay.com/ Kevin W. Grossman

    Mercy me. I had no idea. Thank you for the research. I’m just excited that I have 1st degree connections. ;)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/burda Steven Burda, MBA

    Did anyone see this?

    MUST Read:
    http://tinyurl.com/WhyLimit
    & http://tinyurl.com/WhyTop4

    burda.mba (at) gmail.com
    - Steven Burda

  • http://branchout.com Nathan Smith

    Hi Glen,

    I’m the Director of Engineering at BranchOut, a professional network that leverages users’ contacts on Facebook. I love your blog, and I wanted to share my experiences with calculating numbers like these.

    Calculating your exact number of friends is unsurprisingly not a big deal. Calculating your 2nd degree network size (we internally refer to them as FoFs, or friends-of-friends) is also not hard and can be done periodically and cached to provide an exact result (at a particular moment in time). Note however, that if your FoFs number (4,076,800) is correct, then the actual average friend count for your friends is greater than 214, because there are undoubtedly a lot of duplicates (as Sarang mentioned). This duplication affects the amount of data that must be loaded to calculate your 2nd degree metric, as well as the processing time it takes to do so.

    With that, it is more clear why accurate third degree metrics are not available on LinkedIn. Here’s some rough math: Let’s take your 19K friends and conservatively assume that they have an average of 150 friends each *including* duplicates. Now imagine that your second tier also averages 150 friends each. That means your third tier network size (including duplicate edges) is 19000 * 150 * 150 = 427.5M users! Just to load that many user IDs into an array in memory would take over 3Gb of space. Then you have to remove duplicates, which would take a while. Then you have to scale this process to your userbase (~85 million in LinkedIn’s case). There are some tricks to simplify things, but it’s still a whopper of a problem.

    In short, not gonna happen for what is essentially a feel-good stat.

    At BranchOut, we calculate accurate 2nd tier network stats for our users, but we don’t calculate/estimate 3rd tier stats at all. We feel that the 2nd tier number is actually meaningful, as it reflects the number of people you could be easily introduced to, whereas the 3rd tier is not particularly useful in a real world way. I’m not knocking LinkedIn of course (I love LinkedIn and I use it every day), but it is a small differentiator between our services.

    Hope I didn’t bore anyone to sleep!

    Cheers,
    nate

  • http://www.geoffpeterson.com/ Geoff Peterson

    Good post Glen. I had a discussion on this last year with Eric Jaquith as well! This is a question that has been on my mind for awhile. I have over 10K 1st degree connections and believe that, regardless of the numbers that LinkedIn tells me are in my total network, that I can see all of LinkedIn or damn near all of it. The “adjustment” that some people notice is a way that LinkedIn keeps encouraging users to build their networks by connecting with others, and of course, buy their products! I’m a business user, so I’m already biting, just in case I’m wrong.

  • http://www.booleanblackbelt.com Glen Cathey

    Geoff – I agree, everyone can see all of their connections in searches – but I am still fascinated by the severely underestimated 3rd degree connection totals. I have yet to find anyone with over 20M connections at the 3rd degree according to their network statistics. While it doesn’t affect my ability to search for, find and see anyone in my network, I am curious to know exactly how many people are actually in my total network on LinkedIn.

    Nate & Sarang – thanks for commenting and sharing! While I am certainly aware that there is and practically always will be overlap at the second and third degree connections, even accounting for it, I think whatever method/algorithm LinkedIn is using underestimates the actual 3rd degree and total network size – in some cases to a significant degree. I and a few others have also picked up on a trend of the 3rd degree connection total/estimate decreasing as 1st degree connections are added, which as far as I know is practically impossible – especially when strategically connecting with well-connected people in other countries where the overlap with the existing network should be quite low.

  • http://www.booleanblackbelt.com Glen Cathey

    Maureen – nice catch. :-) Yes, it should be +/- if it’s only an estimate.

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  • http://www.makingcustomers.com Mike Moore

    Just had a week of over 800 new first contacts, 700,000 second level added and only 400,000 third level. Proves your point because over 600 of my new first level contacts had several thousand first levels themselves…The numbers just didn’t add up…Thanks for digging for the whole story. 

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