Is the LinkedIn Platform Dead?

52 Comments

LinkedIn_logo_1.jpgLinkedIn, the business social network, hopped on the platform bandwagon this time last year by opening up its network to developers. It was a move I was excited to see Reid Hoffman’s crew make. LinkedIn, unlike some of the other professional networks that came before it, is actually very useful. It’s a great way to reach people within large companies, and an even better tool for recruiting and finding like-minded business people. Any extension of such a platform, therefore, was great news in my book. So how has it fared thus far?

Let me put it this way: The LinkedIn platform is no different than the Florida real estate market — neither have any building going on. And that is why it gets a solid D from me. D is for disappointing, by the way.

LinkedIn opened up its platform using Open Social and called the effort InApps. (It remains in beta.) It had half a dozen partners, among them SlideShare, Box.net, Tripit and SimplyHired.

How many new partners have launched apps on LinkedIn since then? How about none! And how many apps are there? I just counted again — there are eight approved apps on the web. Eight. And no, that doesn’t include the ones made by LinkedIn itself, including the recently launched SAP Community Connection. A new Twitter-focused app tentatively called TweetIn is likely to make its debut soon. The only other two major developments that I have seen are partnerships with BusinessWeek and The New York Times.

From what I hear, third-party developers have had a tough time working with LinkedIn; an inability to link to the company’s data set is a big issue, according to my sources. The moribund nature of the LinkedIn platform should be a warning to every single developer out there: For companies, sometimes opening up a platform is little more than an easy way to get cheap press.

LinkedIn is looking to make some changes. Last month, when it announced that it had 50 million professionals on its network, our friend Marshall Kirkpatrick quipped that it was still a roach motel. In response, Adam Nash, VP of search & platform products at LinkedIn, left a comment saying: “I think you’ll be quite happy with our plans for improvements to our APIs. Stay tuned.”

Apparently those plans include the recent poaching of Paul Lindner from Hi5, a social network that’s going through an identity crisis of its own. Lindner is a contributor to Apache Shindig, the OpenSocial back end used by everyone except MySpace.

To me, what’s most incredulous about LinkedIn’s open platform fail is that it’s all taken place under the leadership of CEO Jeff Weiner, who was one of the key proponents of social search when he was at Yahoo (back when Yahoo still had search). Even then, he was open to the notion of open platforms and social networks — in other words, he had the right ideas. With LinkedIn, he had the right platform. Too bad the company hasn’t been able to make it truly social.

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52 Comments

Reid Hoffman on Taking Web 2.0 on the Go

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Thomas Skennerton

Firstly, great article Om, I really appreciated reading it, and it struck a number of chords within me.

Personally I prefer to be able to access the various social and business networking sites and social media I belong to, via my BlackBerry, on the fly. I am on twitter, Facebook, Xing, have a WordPress blog, have a Blogger blog, have a Tumblr blog and all of these have one (some more) BlackBerry app.

This means I can execute my social and business networking and social media activities wherever I am, whenever I want to, and don’t need to carry a laptop nor even a netbook (of which I have one each).

I am a member of LinkedIn but find it frustrating that I have to wait until I am in front of my laptop before I can do a anything with LinkedIn, which for me doesn’t make it as spontaneous or compelling as the other sites, and one of the main reason I am a paid member of Xing.

I do find it strange that LinkedIn is resisting the mobilising of its network.

Thomas (@TferThomas on twitter.

BP

A couple of points from a user (not a developer) of linkedin:

1. I disagree with the comment that there is not “useful data around linkedin users” [that should not be kept confidential.] I would never agree to be on it if everyone could get to my contact information; I’d be flooded with requests for jobs, references, and especially introductions to my network, all of which would cost me a lot of time and money to deal with. I’m very protective of who I give access to my network (and I expect others to be as well; I think long and hard before I ask someone for an introduction, but many people do not). I generate a lot of business from linkedin, because the right people see what I have to offer.

2. I agree with some of the usability comments; the constant need to sign in is ridiculous, and the search function is archaic. That being said, I just joined facebook (no laughter please) because people told me I HAD to be on it, and the software is amazingly cludgy, I’m stunned that so many people using it; you can’t even do a basic search by state.

3. I’m sure there are a lot of ‘bells and whistles’ that can be added to linkedin, but I fear it will be like cell phones, adding a lot of features that 10% (?) of users need, yet I still can’t make basic calls because no effort seems to be being put into what I still think is the prime function of (at least) my phone, making calls. It is rare when I can have a call that doesn’t get dropped, cut off, dialing is a pain, the phonebook takes forever to store a number, etc. But if I want to watch TV, I can do it!

Sushant Anand

I’ve had a disappointing time with the LinkedIn platform. Earlier in the year we had a few app ideas that would work great for the LinkedIn crowd and submitted our ideas through the link they provide.

Unfortunately, never got a response back from LinkedIn either confirming the idea or rejecting it.

stuckinthemud

OK, from a different point of view…

I like LinkedIN. I check it a couple of times a day, it’s quick, sometimes interesting connections are made; I answer a question or two, see some very brief updates from people I actually know (from meatspace).

I have a Facebook account; I think about as highly of Facebook as I do of MySpace, it’s become meaningless. Twitter is truly meaningless for real connections, it’s just a news channel. 140 characters is #sadcommunication.

“Apps” are now the sole determination of success? Strange how that’s evolved? Maybe it gives people (Tech blogs) more to write about? “Oh, a new App…” “Oh, another new App…” — BFD. I don’t care about them, they mean nothing to me.

LinkedIN works for what it works for. It doesn’t have to be Facebook, lord help us if it becomes Twitter. Some of us like it how it is. It’s why we all use it.

David Bland

Joshua Porter wrote a great article earlier this year in which Reid was quoted “people don’t use LinkedIn everyday…we need to figure out how to change that..” http://bokardo.com/archives/everyday-app/

One would think that opening up the LI Platform would help it become an everyday app…

I still have hope, and their comScore numbers continue to grow.

-David

Patrick OMalley

Note also that the applications that are there really slow down the load time of the LinkedIn pages. You can actually watch how slow it is if you have a “tall” enough screen.

LinkedIn’s own “Event” area also significantly slows it down.

Add in the decision to put pictures with every status, and load times for pages are ridiculously slow during the day.

Dennis McDonald

I’m not convinced that “opening up” Linkedin would be such a good thing. What I would foresee is another Facebook debacle where everyone is trying to sell you something but to get access to each new “benefit” you need to provide access to your own network and details.

No thanks.I’ll stick with Linkedin’s emphasis on information about people. It’s where I go to find out who someone is/does/has been/is saying. Making it easier for one more group to make money off me and my network is not why I pay my annual Linkedin subscription fee.

Dennis McDonald
Twitter: http://twitter.com/ddmcd

Jay

Om,

More than linkedin this is a Google OpenSocial fail.

OpenSocial has really prevented the companies using it to do much with the platform…Every little change has to be approved etc.

2 root causes:

– The goal of wanting to standardize something so complex is unrealistic
– There are tensions between Google’s goals with openSocial and the goal of the participants. Google wants access to the social network data and OpenSocial enables them to do that…E.g. OpenSocial Connect (facebook connect) only connected with Google Authentication not the participating app providers…

This has caused the whole platform to be slow, bulky and problematic…

Not sure how they resolve it either…

-Jay

Now when the time came to launch opensocial connect, this tension was clearly evident.

wecandobiz

Interesting point Jay. Germany’s XING — one of LinkedIn’s only real competitors — is also OpenSocial based and that only has 17 applications and 600-odd people in its OpenSocial Developer Community group. That’s with 7 million members.

It seems to me that both have elected to be “open” by supporting a portable application standard that enables them to provide apps to run on site using data on site only. By contrast, Facebook and Twitter provider connectors (Facebook Connect, OAuth) to enable their data to be carefully accessed from anywhere on the web.

The latter approach is providing more palatable for developers and users alike it would seem. And the net is that although you would think there are is value in LinkedIn’s data, all the Social CRM apps emerging are looking to mine Twitter first because they open up data and LinkedIn doesn’t.

LinkedIn is disappearing from view.

Ian Hendry
CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

Kevin Marks

Jay, you’re wrong on all counts there.
OpenSocial Standardisation is going on well, with 1.0 spec under discussion now. The Portable Contacts and Activity Streams compatibility help this.

Friend Connect doesn’t use only Google auth, it uses OpenID and OAuth.

The platform is modular, not bulky, which does mean some sites have implemented more of it than others, but there is a general REST API that is supported by many of the implementers, including MySpace, Google, Hi5 etc, though not LinkedIn, sadly.

Yes, sites do need to decide to support being an Auth, contacts and activity provider for the rest of the web too, and many of them have stepped up to do this over open protocols; I do hope LinkedIn joins them.

Kevin Marks

That’s an (old) OpenSocial adoption chart – FaceBook and Twitter aren’t on it ‘cos they don’t use OpenSocial. With Yahoo and iGoogle, adoptionis over a billion users now.

Anonymous

Hi,

LinkedIn in its original form was more appealing than after it opened up to other social features. It was non intrusive, you could connect to people you wanted and needed. In today’s time people keep changing jobs, locations and it is super critical to be in touch with your past collegues. I do not really want ALL my professional collegues to be part of my facebook unless we have a personal connect. A professional’s network should be different from public places like facebook. It needs to have its style quotient. Unfortunately that has gone missing.

It is also wrong to expect professional networks grow at speed of general social networks. Unfortunately in current business models, if you are not growing you are dead. There is no place to niche players thanks to corporate journalism.

What I feel LinkedIn should do is to improve on its search, allow users to declare if they are looking for new job opportunities are not (I believe recruiters are one of the worst community in here and responsible for the spam), may be have a sepaeate area for job exchange where recruiters and job seekers can come together. Core LinkedIn should only be limited to other professional activities. Rather than the user base, it would be critical for LinkedIn to get more page views. We certainly need apps like LinkedIn and need them to be separate from our personal social networks. Please don’t call it dead yet when your are adult you dont grow at same pace.

Kenny Beck

Hmmm. Does anyone really believe privacy still exists? If there is even a modicum left, perhaps we should be considering what’s next? Privacy has been eroding for a very long time. “Well known” SECRET communications programs like Project Echelon and others have been around for decades.

Is anyone naive enough to think for a moment, with all of the unique innovations in technology that have come to the fore, say over the past 60 years, that privacy still exists?

Even cursory, innocuous records of information that somehow have you included, reveal far to much information to ever be considered as private. Time to stop the charade and begin to deal with “what is”.

Personally, I like Linked In and if they stick around long enough I believe they will be able to reach some reasonable median point that will begrudgingly accepted by the majority of users on the site It may be a bit to early for sounding their death knell yet.

Much a the general public is always ready to jump on the latest, greatest thing that will help them make websites and ecommerce entities capable of fulfilling their greatest wishes, bring them untold fortunes and success;

Better hold that thought. The internet is littered with the bitter fruits of un-achieved prognostications from those who never were truly cognizant of the entire vision. Perhaps even some of those a part of the organization itself. They could be standing there just wondering, “What the hell is going on?”

For me, the jury is still out.

Sure, we’d like to go back to a simpler, more innocent time, er, ahh, “When was that exactly?”

Kenny Beck

oren michels

couldn’t agree more, Om – and in the commentary, Darren nails it on the biggest issue and Steve Newman correctly points out that a properly managed API with OAuth can address the privacy concerns.

At Mashery we power dozens of successful APIs, and before we set out to build our first release almost four years ago, we did research that looked at hundreds of APIs and compared those that were “successful” (had a strong ecosystem of apps around it) with those that were not (had few apps or developers). Across the board, the biggest factor that correlated with a lack of success was the lack of the ability to self-provisoin a key at any time, day or night, and get to work developing. Of course that key can be limited in quantity of data, available; we have also seen “provisional” keys limited to accessing sample data or limited to accessing only the developer’s own personal info during a test phase.

Either way, though, the signup-and-wait barrier is the single biggest factor in the lack of adoption. Click on the “Developers” link in the footer and you are given three widgets as options, plus a tab or link that goes to a form requiring all kinds of info about your intentions before you get a key.

I talk to a lot of developers. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been asked if I can help someone (large or small) get access to the LinkedIn API. There is a massive ecosystem of people out there who want to make LinkedIn more valuable. I look forward to these upcoming announcements, and hope they will include a truly open API

Jay Cuthrell

Thank you Om.

Thank you.

Well… I’m one of those “paying customers” on Linkedin. The other thing I’ve noticed about their platform is that it rarely works as expected. This tells me they are worrying about something but not the things that I care about specifically. So, where are the cycles going exactly?

Let’s break it down:

1) Groups – cesspool, too many tabs, too much noise, too much obtuse positioning at the bottom of the page making me scroll endlessly and eventually give up on use

2) Q&A – the questions S:N ratio are horrible and flooded with link bait (growing issue) and a free for all with no membership privileges or refinements

3) All of the “give us feedback” features appear to be unmanned and/or flooded to a level of apathy which leads me to stop providing feedback

4) Events – doesn’t work past the first pagination (has never worked for me reliably)

5) Making me log in each and every single time I. Do. Anything. Other. Than. Browse. Guys, give me a client certificate or something but the username password dialog is very 1997.

6) Polls – great spending to capture but the refinements are just too coarse for 2009 — please steal some ideas from Facebook Polls

Oh wait… you were talking about the API for -other- parties? Well, let’s take a look

1) TripIt – still thinks I live in another city and despite their best efforts to assist with the Linkedin issues, the TripIt folks just don’t seem to know where the problem is either

2) SlideShare – I use it. Guess what? I’m still being offered “Featured Applications” like… SlideShare. I’m not happy with the layout options for it as compared to the sharing elsewhere one can do with SlideShare. Also, why limit to 3 presentations? I don’t get it.

3) WordPress – very limited and the clippings aren’t really exciting. Why not cache images if they are concerned with click tracking or other issues related to media assets. Again, not happy with the presentation at all.

Okay.. rant mode off.

-Jay

Jay Cuthrell

Om, I actually care a lot about Linkedin but yeah… you really did touch a very raw nerve. Hence, the details. Although, I left out the random downtime, sluggish response times, the cryptic error messages, unrecoverable buffers through workflow, and other UX/UI pain points.

I’m just a nobody in the bigger pool of ARPU but I do pay attention to details — and I’m sure you could mine up all the comments I’ve made about Linkedin since joining the service.

Generally speaking, they know where they make money and I’m just an end user of the service but I find myself in the position of defending -why- I used Linkedin.

What’s the saying about house inspectors being bitter home builders/architects?

Maybe there’s a pinch of that in there. But when I feel my experience is being neglected as a user (dare I say seasoned) I can only imagine the temperament of others with even greater discerning standards.

Patrick OMalley

Agreed. They are really misfocused in general. If you try to Add Connections, you constantly get messages saying that it can’t be done now. If you look at your connections, it often says that the database is not available during the day.

LinkedIn tip – if you are looking at your connections and get that error, hit refresh a couple of times and it usually works, probably because they engineered a timeout period that expired prematurely.

starney

I think they should watch out for Tracked.com. It’s a bit different but adds real business data and content to a similar taxonomy.

RF

I went through their API sign-up procedure, wanting to link my iPhone app to the Linked-In network. It’s been more than six months. No response. Even sent a note to Reid Hoffman.

Nada.

It’s not rocket science, folks. If they want third-party apps to connect to their network, the first logical step is to answer requests from developers wanting to connect to their network.

Take a lesson from Twitter or Facebook. If you want a high level of engagement from the developer community, for crying out-loud don’t make us jump through hoops.

Monty Kalsi

Totally agree Nada. We sent the API request over 8 months ago for our marketplace, it has gone into a black hole. Absolutely no response back. I sent an email to Reid Hoffman as well, again no response.

I guess, they want to suck in all the info and think..one day they will develop their own. Kind of like the big ERP vendors mentality. But the times are changing fast and so is the innovation wave, they will always be playing catch-up.

Best,
Monty Kalsi

Marc

I don’t…what is that graph? It’s not mentioned at all in the article, and I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to mean. Myspace tripled its userbase between April and May of this year? Friendster opened its doors in August 09? Wat.

Faramarz Hashemi

LinkedIn desperately needs an app. fund to incite the developer community. Better yet, organize an incubation program to weed out the opportunists and that will attract application ideas with real business potential.

Ed Loessi

Yep, it’s funny that so much effort is going in to protect our data but there seems to be no problem in having groups become spam land!

Ed

Imran Anwar

Om

This was one of the most succinct business cases I have read in recent memory.

As I found myself seeking business connections to find employment in this tough market, I have had more “connections” interact and offer valuable help on Twitter and FaceBook than on LinkedIn even with its apps idea.

I can appreciate their wanting to give us privacy and protect us from every random app developer, but you are right, a D grade is what the service gets for its efforts that many are not even aware of.

Keep up the good work.

Imran
IMRAN.TV

Paul Lindner

Wow, now I know what it feels like to be a tea leaf!

I’ll just repeat what Adam said — “I think you’ll be quite happy with our plans for improvements to our APIs. Stay tuned.”

Rohit Khare

Glad to see you chime in here Paul! — I have to say, I’m expecting great things now that you’re reputation is on the line (along with a whole bunch of other great folks at LinkedIn!) to turn this partnership situation around for 2010…

As one of those developers with apps for *professional* networks, I’d respond to the earlier commenters by saying there are lots of valid business “mashups” that will unlock value, not simple videogames or such. Although an office pool or Buzzword Bingo may have a future as bright as Scrabulous’, even in the buttoned-down world of LI ! :)

Om Malik

Hey Paul,

Well make greatness happen. We are all cheering for you. I think you guys have a chance of doing something great.

TimB

In a similar vein as Stephen B — it seems like LinkedIn caters to a much more professional/focused crowd. Om, do you have some specific applications from FB or elsewhere in mind that would be useful to the LinkedIn crowd?

Darren

This is why they failed

From the linked in developers page

How to develop for the Platform

The LinkedIn application platform is not publicly available for all developers. We evaluate requests to develop for the LinkedIn platform from partners who have clearly compelling value to our users and who can rigorously follow our privacy policies. We are looking for applications that provide clear business utility to LinkedIn users. LinkedIn is not a place for sheep throwing. There is equal opportunity to build applications that apply to all LinkedIn users as there is to develop applications that apply to just a targeted portion of the user base. If you think you qualify and have a compelling user value proposition, let us know using the form below.

I wanted to develop some apps for linkedin but this is a barrier to entry.

Kevin

Why would you want to develop apps that wouldn’t provide value and clear business utility for the people using them?

@shyamster

Ideas evolve and experimentation is required. A developer should not have prove in advance that they will provide value to the users using them. Let the users decide the utility by actually using them and not by someone on the other side of the “form”.

Owen

and why would I want to develop for a group that is so unwelcoming? Especially since the best apps will not be made without experimentation – the kind of thing LinkedIn won’t be bothered with. I am a heavy LinkedIn user – I love it – but only because the core functionality is solid. I do not use a single extension – none have any value whatsoever – and they won’t until they are open to real creativity and entrepreneurs.

dave

what would be *wonderful* is if linkedin would move off their arses and put out a real blackberry application, particularly given the business-centric nature of their corporate users and likely high blackberry user population within their subscription/premium offerings…that deeply troubles me…first to market with a solid linkedin for blackberry will make a killing on par with taptap revenge usership…

Om Malik

Agreed. iPhone is nice, but most of their users are likely Blackberry users. I just am surprised on how many things this company doesn’t do. I have grown increasingly disillusioned and have stopped visiting them.

Stephen B.

Social networking web apps are almost always an open invitation to privacy invasion. Unlike on Facebook, which is populated with gaggles of half educated teens and twenty-somethings, the professionals on LinkedIn understand this. They actually read the terms and conditions that go along with opening up your account data to a third party application — and most of us are not comfortable with those conditions.

Here is your real reason for the lack of web apps on LinkedIn.

You simply cannot have it both ways. You can have a mass uneducated market that will click on anything without reading it, who will trust blindly, indeed foolishly, or you can have a smaller market of educated professionals who knows better. LinkedIn does the latter, and quite frankly it is the better for it in my book.

The amount of compromising private information that is potentially being mined from these younger generations will make the files that J. Edger Hoover kept on leading Americans 50 years ago look like the work of a rank amateur.

Om Malik

Stephen

Great points and I wouldn’t disagree with you on many. My big issue is that despite all that, couldn’t there be more useful apps developed over one full year. I mean there are several privacy abiding startups/people who could develop for this platform. Or we are assuming that all app developers are going to be well doing… what you suggest :-)

Steve Newman

You make the assumption, if Im reading you right, that ‘opening up’ the platform and providing APIs is a means of distributing protected data. Not true. There are plenty of APIs that could open up the platform and yet allow users a richer experience _without_ compromising security or privacy. OAuth was built on that premise as well as many APIs from numerous social networks. Opening up a platform does not mean that data flows freely without the user’s permission.

wecandobiz

Stephen’s comments are interesting, but I see a much simpler reason for the poor uptake:

1) They haven’t really opened up a platform at all, at least compared to Twitter and Facebook. There is no publicly published API accessible to all to encourage development; and as LinkedIn is walking the Open Social route they seem to want all applications compliant with that. To be frank, developers can’t be bothered with the hurdles they face

2) There’s not actually THAT much useful data around LinkedIn members. You give the site an e-mail address and upload a resume, in essence; there are few other contact details to help to profile users; and there aren’t many company profiles matched to entries in career histories to provide rich data on the sort of company, products, services, size, location that would be useful. From recollection you don’t get a keyword list of skills for individuals; you don’t get the same for companies; you don’t get a usable list of product, service or market expertise; you get nothing on needs or wants… It’s an active community, but the reality is that the quantity and quality of useable data to take to a third party application to be able to add value isn’t that great. Just look at the current apps and how they use data within the site — they don’t; they just take advantage of the fact they’ve got access to users

3) LinkedIn is VERY protective of its data and how it’s used. This sounds like a good thing of course, but I know of two companies that have looked to provide CRM type functionality around LinkedIn contacts and received sternly worded letters shutting the door on data access, presumably because LinkedIn’s connection with SAP (the latter are investors in the former) means they want to keep all the valuable application features for themselves.

The short is that LinkedIn is shutting out developers by making it too hard to work with them and ring-fencing off all sexy functionality for itself. Forget issues of privacy, the poor uptake is routed in politics.

Ian Hendry
CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
http://www.wecando.biz

Dave McClure

– dead right on #1.
– dead wrong on #2.
– mostly right on #3.

in addition to #3 — LinkedIn chose to prioritize larger partners / monetization over other smaller partners / engagement & distribution. perhaps rational choices at the time, but i’d agree it hasn’t resulted in much activity on platform.

other issue is LinkedIn was concerned about developers/apps being too spammy (Facebook was out of control when LinkedIn platform was in development, and they hadn’t dialed back virality in favor of Profile changes). this was probably in error, as LinkedIn hasn’t really made its own internal newsfeed equivalent viral / engaging enough, and Facebook was able to rein in its own platform spamminess later.

in summary: LinkedIn has a lot more to do if it wants to open up the platform, however it’s choices in favor of caution & monetization were perhaps reasonable at the time. given how well LinkedIn is doing on revenue, it was probably prudent to be conservative with how hard they stepped on the gas.

still, i hope they change their attitude and open up further / make the platform more engaging. we’ll have to see if the new efforts prove any more successful.

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