LinkedIn, the social networking site for business users, has clamped down on a controversial group of networkers who add 'connections' even if they don't know them.

linkedin_logoThe LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs) group is counter to LinkedIn's official policy, which states that LinkedIn members should connect only with people they know. Some LIONs have reported receiving messages saying that they have exceeded a newly imposed connection limit of 30,000. Some members revealed they have pending 'invitations to connect' that they cannot accept as a result of the restriction.

Steven Burda, a financial planner, is a LION who says he has approximately 40,000 connections now. Burda has been known to help strangers connect over the service and, as evidenced by recommendations on his profile from people all over the country, has helped some foster new business as a result.

Burda previously expressed worries that his pay-it-forward mentality might be seen as cannibalising one of LinkedIn's revenue opportunities: selling premium accounts to individuals, recruiters and companies looking to get access to search and cull through a wider portion of the network.

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Now, he thinks that fear has come to pass.

"I don't think that, I know that," he says. "LinkedIn will go public at some point. The way they make money is to say, 'hey, I'm not connected to Steven Burda, so pay LinkedIn twenty bucks or whatever to connect you with him."

Krista Canfield, a LinkedIn spokeswoman, said the company wouldn't comment on any LION or super-connected user specifically, but said any changes to LinkedIn's service, including its search capabilities, will not affect normal users. LIONs like Burda have also seen their reach of the LinkedIn network shrink.

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Regular users of LinkedIn who use the free version of the service can search and access a portion of social network's 34 million members based on their connection count. There are their immediate connections, second degree contacts (friends of friends), and third degree contacts, people whom you can get introduced (and connect with) by the aid of being introduced by a mutual connection. These three categories in total will determine how much of the LinkedIn network the users can search for (without paying LinkedIn for wide access).

Burda says previously that number was 27 million for him but since he has added connections in recent weeks, he says his network size shrunk to 12 million.

NEXT PAGE: The previous steps LinkedIn has taken to prevent blind connections

LinkedIn, the social networking site for business users, has clamped down on a controversial group of networkers who add 'connections' even if they don't know them.

Bill Howell, senior vice president and CIO of Accellent (a medical components company), is a LION and has also seen the restriction leveled on to him. He says that with the down economy, the type of restriction seems especially draconian.

"This is very regrettable," he said. "Just last Sunday I did a presentation to unemployed workers on the benefits of using LinkedIn and I advised all of them to connect to me and I would help them get jobs. Now none of them can connect to me. Gee, now isn't that an interesting message."

The decision to punish LinkedIn open networkers won't be without consequence as the group and the service have a unique relationship.

Jason Alba, president of JibberJobber.com and author of the book I'm on LinkedIn - Now What?, said that while their network philosophy runs counter to that of LinkedIn, the LIONs have some upsides for the service as well.

"Many of the open networkers are actually helping LinkedIn grow, since they are such passionate evangelists."

However, LinkedIn has taken quiet steps to temper their influence on the service in the past. On the profile pages of LinkedIn, the service will only list a person's connection size as '500+' to discourage the practice of connection counting. They have levied a limit on how many invitations someone can send to connect (3,000).

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The selling of premium accounts does represent a way in which LinkedIn has diversified its business away from merely advertising, which its competitors such as Facebook have relied heavily on to build a business.

These services include increased search results and the ability to send 'InMails', which allow you to contact not only your second and third degree contacts, but also people outside your network. LinkedIn's 'business plus plan' runs for $50 (£36) per month or $500 (£362) for the year, and its 'corporate solutions' plan lets companies buy multiple accounts with premium services and access to LinkedIn (prices aren't provided on LinkedIn's website).

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"Although we don't take away Linkedin's business, we do, indirectly, do things for free what others would be more than willing and able to pay for to Linkedin Corporation," Burda said. "Thus Linkedin views us select few as a big, big, big threat to their bottom line now, and especially in the future. They would do anything to kick us off their site. If only they found a legal reason to do so."

See also: Five important LinkedIn etiquette tips