It’s hard to imagine there’s a person out there who feels like they don’t have enough networking and contacting opportunities on LinkedIn(s lnkd). But the company aims to reach just those people on Thursday with the launch of its new product, a standalone mobile app that integrates (only some) of a user’s contacts across different social and web services into one app, called Contacts, that’s meant to help you keep in touch with more professional contacts outside of the existing LinkedIn app. And get you hooked on more of LinkedIn’s products while you’re at it.
The LinkedIn Contacts app, which will launch just on iOS for U.S. users on an invite-only basis at first, allows you to pull together your Google, Outlook, Yahoo, and phone contacts into one contact database hosted on the app. (It also supports integration with some apps like Tripit or Cardmunch.) Contacts then lets you sort and filter people based on how often you contact them and lets you add details about your relationship to serve as personal reminders.
For instance, I can mark when and where I first met one of my LinkedIn conections, see when I last emailed that person in Gmail, call them on the phone (if they list their number), and see when I last met with them according to my Outlook calendar (if I used one of those).
These seem like useful features that could help you sort and categorize professional contacts, and it’s cool to see how LinkedIn has used algorithims and data to put together individual relationship histories for each contact without much work required from the user. However, it’s unclear why LinkedIn felt that these features should exist in a standalone app.
Will people really download a second LinkedIn app if they already have one that works just fine? These features seem like they’d be more useful if they were integrated into the existing app rather than launched in a second one. The company did indicate that it will evaluate how the product does on mobile in deciding whether to add features into the existing app, and users who gain access to the new Contacts app will have this data integrated into their contacts section of LinkedIn.com, which is smart.
Sachin Rekhi, the former CEO of the address book company Connected, which LinkedIn acquired in 2011, is now heading up the Contacts app, and he explained that LinkedIn wanted to keep the contact info in a separate app to better target the specific audience that would find it useful. Namely, professionals who want networking info on mobile. But it’s unclear which of LinkedIn’s existing members wouldn’t fit that description.
The other major downside to the app is that it doesn’t integrate with Facebook or Twitter, so it’s fairly limited in the types of information it can actually import. The company would not indicate whether this was because Facebook and Twitter refused to provide access to those social graphs, or whether LinkedIn wasn’t interested in adding them. Rekhi said it’s because the Contacts app just focuses on professional contacts rather than more social features, so starting with apps like Gmail and Outlook made sense.
However, the increasing reality is that a lot of people do make professional contacts over Facebook and Twitter, and as Facebook improves its messaging and contacts products, it seems like a major downside that the LinkedIn app wouldn’t include those. Presumably, LinkedIn wants you connect with people over its own social network, wishing them happy birthday, calling them, and catching up with them on the Contacts app rather than through Facebook. But by not including Facebook’s social graph, it makes the app a lot less complete for younger users like myself.
So what’s the benefit for LinkedIn in producing this app? Of course, more eyeballs focused on LinkedIn and more screentime with the company’s products are always good for the company, and messaging and calling apps have become popular recently as companies try to hook users into communicating through their services. Importing all of your contacts and email information gives LinkedIn much more data to use as it turns your information into value for professional recruiters, who drive most of the company’s revenue.
Plus, as LinkedIn focuses its site on producing more news and media content, as evidenced by the Pulse acquisition, it’s possible it wants to make the main LinkedIn app more of a news reader and the Contacts app where you communicate with other individuals. But the company has a long way to go before it builds the equivalent of Facebook and Facebook Messenger.