2008: The Year of LinkedIn?

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to start speculating about what will be hot and what will be not in 2008. After all, 2007 was not the Year of the Widget, despite what Newsweek predicted. If anything, it was the Year of Facebook, as the social networking site won a $240 million investment from Microsoft for a mere 1.6 percent stake (plus the right to sell third-party ads on the Facebook network), valuing it a some $15 billion. But what about that business networking contender, LinkedIn? Could 2008 be the year of business networking?

Maybe — but only if LinkedIn doesn’t fumble its position by failing to address the worldwide Internet user base, about 80 percent of which resides outside of the U.S.

LinkedIn seems to have built some momentum while everyone was gawking at Facebook. LinkedIn CEO Dan Nye predicts the company’s revenues could grow to $100 million next year. News Corp. (apparently) wants to buy it. And on a year-over-year percentage basis, as of October, LinkedIn grew faster than Facebook.

Facebook’s sober cousin seems well-positioned for any economic weakness that could emerge in 2008, because it doesn’t depend primarily on advertising, but rather makes money by selling premium services to subscribers and their employers. And if people start losing their jobs, they’ll be all the more interested in LinkedIn’s services.

LinkedIn faces challenges, of course. I spoke with Konstantin Guericke, LinkedIn co-founder and Jaxtr CEO, not as an official spokesperson for LinkedIn but as an interested observer and investor. He said that English-only LinkedIn needs to push forward aggressively with internationalization and localization in 2008. It competes with Xing in Germany and Viadeo in France, both of which support multiple languages.

From an international perspective, Facebook doesn’t look so exciting. It competes with a vast array of social networks including hi5, Bebo, Orkut, Mixi, QQ and more. Besides that, it could have permanently offended many of its users with its ham-handed attempts at social advertising. For LinkedIn, advertising is a source of revenue secondary to providing services its users find valuable enough to pay for. On that basis alone, I hope that 2008 is the year of LinkedIn rather than Facebook, at least if we’re talking about networking online in one forum or another.


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