As part of its ongoing attempts to make its business-oriented network more social, LinkedIn launched an open plugin platform on Wednesday that looks and sounds very much like the “open graph” platform Facebook launched last year with much fanfare. Like Facebook’s offering, LinkedIn now allows developers and website publishers to add various features from the network as widgets or plugins on their pages, so that users can connect their activity to the LinkedIn network. More than any of its previous moves, this one throws LinkedIn into head-to-head competition with Facebook for the clicks and identities of web users.
As described in its blog post and on its developer site, the LinkedIn platform includes virtually everything that Facebook launched last year: the ability to log in with your LinkedIn identity, a feature that shares your profile from the network with other sites, the ability to click a “share” button and send content back to your LinkedIn contacts, and a “recommend” function that lets users recommend a site or services to their friends and connections. The only thing LinkedIn didn’t do was call it an “open graph.”
LinkedIn has had a form of “open API” or programming interface since 2009, but never seemed to generate a lot of traction with it, and there have been ongoing complaints from developers about the difficulties and restrictions involved in working with the company’s APIs. This latest effort is a lot more ambitious, since it involves full support for OAuth, the open authentication standard that allows services such as Facebook to identify users remotely when they interact with other websites.
The company has launched a series of social features over the past year or so, most of which have seemed like carbon copies of similar features offered by Twitter and Facebook. Users can follow others on Twitter and see updates? They can do that on LinkedIn too. Friends can “like” items on Facebook? They can do that on LinkedIn too. The business-networking site also launched Twitter integration, so that feeds or streams can show up on LinkedIn pages, and more recently added a “social news” feature called LinkedIn Today that shows the top most-shared news from your network.
So what happens now, when LinkedIn tries to go up against Facebook as a login ID, profile and “share” button provider for the broader web? To some extent, there is very little overlap between the two networks, since one is primarily seen as personal and the other as professional — although some services such as BranchOut have been trying to bridge that gap by adding a professional layer to Facebook, and the latter seems to be trying to reach out more to businesses and brands as part of its monetization strategy.
But Facebook still seems to be a social playground for many users — a place they post photos and play games and share links to funny videos — while LinkedIn is like the office: it’s where users post their professional histories and connect with others in their field, search for jobs, and do other business-related things. So is there room for both to have a web-embracing plugin platform? Could LinkedIn appeal to older, more professional users who think Facebook is either too frivolous or too insecure and therefore don’t login or use its plugins? That’s likely what LinkedIn is hoping for.
There isn’t anything wrong with taking inspiration from other sites and services, of course — especially when you are in the process of going public, as LinkedIn is, and trying to add as much value as you can to your business. Social networking is where it’s at, and the company clearly wants to become the Facebook for your professional life. Adopting the kind of “embrace and extend” approach that Facebook did with its open-graph APIs and plugins seems like a smart way to go, rather than just trying to be a destination. But the question remains: will anyone use them?