LinkedIn Needs to ReachOut

Professional networking service LinkedIn wants to emulate Facebook’s success by drawing users and applications through the use of a similar portal strategy. But LinkedIn’s best chance at success lies in doing just the opposite: reaching out to other web sites and applications.

LinkedIn announces personalized home page, Business Week partnership

New LinkedIn home pageToday, LinkedIn launches a new personal home page that provides a basic personalized news capability, along with modules showing where OpenSocial applications will go. They are also announcing a relationship with Business Week, their first partner for an external API.

LinkedIn’s new home page includes company news, network updates and customizable modules. The company news feed shows news articles about the company for whom you work, filtered by what’s most popular among your colleagues. The network updates show what your professional contacts are up to. And the customizable modules show how users will add OpenSocial applications to their home page.

LinkedIn, you’re no Facebook

The new home page looks like an attempt to create a professional version of Facebook’s one-stop-shop social networking site. But LinkedIn is no Facebook, despite rosy possibilities for next year. Facebook has found success in bringing people and applications to its site because it offers a rich social experience.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, has always been about recording and browsing professional networks, not building those networks. Building the relationships that LinkedIn displays happens elsewhere. Even with features like Answers and Introductions, which provide some person-to-person interaction, LinkedIn is currently more data store than social platform.

That data store has real value, but because it’s locked up on one site it’s far less valuable than it could be. If LinkedIn made itself the default way to keep track of and activate professional relationships, their service would be hard to beat.

LinkedIn ReachingOut

LinkedIn - Business Week integrationThe new partner relationship with BusinessWeek shows how LinkedIn might reach out to succeed. When you’re viewing a Business Week article with the new LinkedIn feature, you can hover over a company name and find out how you’re connected to the company via your professional contacts.

This flips news personalization on its head. Usually, personalized news means a service recommends articles to you. In this version, articles you’re already reading are personalized by virtue of their association with your professional network.

Imagine if you could access your LinkedIn professional network from anywhere: your email (LinkedIn integration is already available in Outlook), Facebook, your instant messaging client, Twitter, your contact manager, and so forth. And I don’t mean just downloading a CSV file and then importing it by hand.

The limited news personalization capability that LinkedIn is offering on the new home page suggests another way LinkedIn could reach out. It could make professional profile, network and company data available for integration into RSS news readers. People could find out how they’re related to other people or companies they read about on blogs. Professional profile and network information could even be used by smart newsreaders to come up with feed and article recommendations based on the people, companies, industries and job titles in a user’s LinkedIn account.

The riskiness of not risking enough

LinkedIn isn’t moving forward aggressively enough to unlock the value of their data and services; they need to bring them to the places where professional networking happens. “We’re taking a measured path because our audience is a professional audience,” Senior Product Director Adam Nash told me. But successful professionals know that the biggest risk you can take is to be too cautious.