For those of you who can’t get enough of the endless competition and comparisons with co-workers, don’t worry, LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) is here for you. The professional networking site will now rank its users according to popularity, and make that ranking available to you and all of your direct contacts (but not second-degree contacts, at least for the moment).

LinkedIn Corporation

“Features like How You Rank are intended to provide members with data, inspiration and examples to help them increase their presence and discoverability on LinkedIn,” said a LinkedIn rep, reports Seth Fiegerman at Mashable. “Whether that’s through improvements to their Profile or relevant content that can be shared with their network.”

LinkedIn rankings add a dash of competition to social networking

While they would never present it this way to their core audience of white collar professionals, it sounds like LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) has taken a page from the gamification playbook. People join social networks like LinkedIn for different reasons, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone signed up with the goal of having the most popular profile at their company. But by creating an artificial goal (a high LinkedIn ranking) and publishing results to people that you know professionally and whose opinion of you matters, the company is attempting to turn the social network into a competition that requires a high degree of engagement to win.

Gamification can backfire by creating unexpected incentives

LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) is taking a bit of a risk with the feature, as it could give people a reason to be more selective about who they make contact with on the site. If employees feel that they will be judged for having one of the lower LinkedIn rankings at their company they might decide not to make contact with recruiters or potential employers when their rank is at a low ebb. There could also be an incentive to inflate numbers my connecting with unpopular profiles and temporarily cutting ties with popular ones prior to a job hunt.

And LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) always has the option to ramp up the pressure by making rankings publicly available. They’ve decided not to do that for now, but it can always be revisited.

All this assumes that people will take the rankings seriously, which is likely to be company and industry dependent, but once gamification is introduced onto a platform, participants are encouraged to game the system, which might not be exactly what LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD) is aiming for.