LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), which claims to be the world’s largest professional network, joined in the parade of announcements from the social networking space in the last few weeks with news of a redesigned homepage and the release of its Intelligent Applications Platform—the company’s attempt to attract third-party developers to its site. The changes represent the first small steps to gain social market share by distributing applications using OpenSocial.
Within the new homepage, LinkedIn has added additional modules to extend the information shown on the homepage as opposed to the previous reliance on tabs. The answers module shows the questions people are asking within your network, the people module better represents the connections of your connections, and a job module displays relevant employment opportunities.
Most interesting within the redesign is the competitive intelligencelike feature of the news module. Users can see the news and information regarding their companies, products, and competitors. According to Allen Blue, co-founder of LinkedIn and VP of product strategy, LinkedIn automatically shows users "the wisdom of your ‘crowd’ of colleagues to determine the handful of articles that are the most important to your business." The news module is only available to select users, but LinkedIn users may view the new homepage by going to www.linkedin.com/?beta.
Separately, LinkedIn announced its Intelligent Applications Platform. The platform offers two choices for developers. The first, similar to previous announcements from Facebook and MySpace, allows developers to create applications that will integrate into the LinkedIn website. The second, and more interesting, allows other websites to build LinkedIn features into their applications. In theory, this will give third-party websites the ability to allow their users with LinkedIn accounts to access their professional networks in context with the third-party’s website content.
LinkedIn also announced that BusinessWeek.com agreed to be the first publishing partner. It will provide the first application that will enable readers to access its networks and find connections with the companies featured in its articles.
The LinkedIn Intelligent Applications Platform is built upon the Google OpenSocial Platform announced only 2 months ago. However, at this time it is not clear whether the platform is 100% compatible with the Google-led OpenSocial initiative. LinkedIn only stated that its platform is compatible with OpenSocial, so the possibility exists that LinkedIn will have its own proprietary APIs for developers.
A Brief History of Time
Given the number of social networking announcements made over the past 6 months, it is worthwhile reviewing the timeline of the announcements. First, Facebook announced it would open up its service so that third-party developers could launch applications within the Facebook network (http://developers.facebook.com). While that announcement generated little fanfare, a few weeks after the Facebook launch, the company boasted more than 40,000 developer requests and popular applications used by more than 850,000 people, which seemed to catch everyone off guard.
In response, 2 months ago, MySpace announced its intention to open up its platform as well. (See our NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=39928.) While the "me too" aspect of the announcement did not sound inspiring, 1 week later, Google, together with MySpace, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, and Six Apart, among others, announced its commitment to supporting OpenSocial. OpenSocial is an attempt to create a standard for developing social applications across the web. Facebook, with 40,000 developers in hand, did not participate in the announcement.
According to blogger/journalist Matthew Ingram (www.mathewingram.com/work), "The success of Facebook’s platform has shown other social networks such as LinkedIn and MySpace the benefits of allowing outside developers to build applications and even services on top of—or inside—your network."
Facebook deserves the credit for driving these companies to cooperate. From Google’s perspective, it wants developers to learn and to use Google APIs for anything web-based. Once developers take the time to learn and understand one platform, it is difficult to make them learn something different. So, while Google’s social networking interest seemed minimal with its Orkut product, the volume of developers willing to learn Facebook APIs caught Google’s attention. Facebook’s "natural" competitors, MySpace and LinkedIn, seemed to be taken off guard with Facebook opening up its system. Leveraging Google’s brains and market was a logical course of action.
"Natural" Progression Underway
The natural progression that has taken place follows:
- The opening up of a closed website/system to third-party developers (Facebook)
- The announcement of a common platform for everyone to develop social applications (OpenSocial)
- A social networking site allowing its content to be used outside of its system (LinkedIn).
To be clear, LinkedIn has not "opened its kimono," as sites must gain LinkedIn’s approval to partner. "The problem," according to Mark Evans of www.markevanstech.com, "is that LinkedIn seems to be taking a conservative approach by moving an inch forward rather than a mile. LinkedIn needs to be aggressive and be as open as Facebook because many people want to use social networking tools in lots of different ways. Personally, I think it’s a strategic mistake given what’s happening in the social network ecosystem."
However, keeping control of the brand may make sense for LinkedIn’s shareholders. Rumors have circulated that News Corp. has an interest in acquiring them. Given News Corp.’s ownership of MySpace and its recent acquisition of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, it would make sense. Neither LinkedIn nor News Corp. had any comments on the potential acquisition.But, the natural progression towards exchanging information with web services is underway. While many analysts have expressed frustration that LinkedIn is proceeding slowly, the pace of web-business-model transformation has been rather remarkable. The future seems right around the corner.