LinkedIn may be entering the work management market

LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner, in an interview at TechCrunch last week, expanded on his ideas about the “professional graph” — the network linking you to professional colleagues, and colleagues of colleagues — and growing that over the next ten years into an “economic graph” which would connect every worker, every  job, and profiles of every company, organization, and university. And then, he said “LinkedIn would get out of the way” and let them do obvious things.

Some of the vision he is spinning seems to parallel the idea of open work that I’ve written about: the premise that any company, of whatever size, would be able to use online services to connect and communicate with others. With customers and clients, yes, but more broadly with all sorts of agents in its marketplace. With potential employees or freelancers, with existing or possible service firms, and with other organizations. Given the right sorts of services built into an open work platform, a participating company would be able to lower the friction involved in hiring, outsourcing and insourcing, distributing manufacturing, and a wide spectrum of other activities. This is perhaps the largest recapitulation of the placeform concept (marketplace + platform = placeform) I’ve been writing about this year (see Let a thousand placeforms connect us, even as we loosen our connections). LinkedIn is uniquely positioned to bring this vision forward.

However, the initial steps for LinkedIn might involve a push into an established and growing market, enterprise social networks, which I call work media. They come at this from a different angle, since LinkedIn is an open professional network, with over 3 million active company profiles, and hundreds of millions of user profiles. Contrast this with products like Yammer and Chatter, which support basically no open public profiles, but are in user at thousands of companies in a closed fashion (by closed in this case I mean there is no open access as there is in Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn). So LinkedIn would be backing into the enterprise with an extension to the open services that companies and individuals already use.

Weiner mentioned that LinkedIn is already using an in-house version of LinkedIn that allows his company to be more productive:

[…] at LinkedIn we’re building tools that will enable us to get more value from our own platform. And success, to the extent that we generate the right kind of engagement and the right kind of productivity enhancement, we would then be in the position by virtue of the platform to think about productizing that.

[note: the Techcrunch videos are bit screwy. To see this interview proceed here, find the Jeff Weiner backstage interview and click on “related.” The Jeff Weiner onstage interview mistakenly links to a Dick Costello talk.]

He was asked by Eric Elden of TechCrunch specifically about Yammer and Chatter, and he responded this way:

We’d want it to be specific and unique to what we offer today. I think you would see greater emphasis on professional identity, for example. But again, there’s no definitive plans to offer that as a product. What we’re trying to do is leverage LinkedIn and as employees get as much value from that.

I could imagine a scenario where LinkedIn might develop the in-house equivalent of today’s collaboration-oriented work media solutions — a la Yammer and Chatter — or leapfrog into a more cooperative alternative, based on their orientation to the open professional graph. This would include capabilities for companies to not only search for employees and on ramp them into jobs, but also the workforce management services that placeforms like oDesk, and cooperative tools that connect and coordinate our work activities, and provide a social communication layer.

If LinkedIn takes this step it could be as transformative to today’s enterprise software market as Amazon’s forays into books and cloud computing.