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Summary:

LinkedIn, 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, […]

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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  1. 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.

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    1. 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 :-)

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    2. 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.

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    3. 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

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      1. - 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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  2. 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…

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    1. 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.

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      1. Where would you suggest finding peoples’ work history instead?

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  3. 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.

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

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      1. 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”.

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      2. 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.

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  4. 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?

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  5. 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.”

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    1. 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 ! :)

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    2. Hey Paul,

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

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  6. 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

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  7. For me, it’s less about the dearth of apps, and more about how people are using the (formerly awesome) LinkedIn Groups feature like a late-night infomercial.

    http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/2009/09/21/linkedin-is-dead-to-me/

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    1. 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

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  8. 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.

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  9. [...] for updates on this topic.Is the LinkedIn Platform Dead? (Om Malik/GigaOM) Om Malik / GigaOM: Is the LinkedIn Platform Dead?  —  LinkedIn, the business social network, hopped on the platform bandwagon this [...]

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