The Outlook on LinkedIn


LinkedIn is one of the most important data products ever created, and the recent Fortune interview with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is chock-full of insights and fresh thinking. I can't do justice to the full interview in one post, but here are a few points to whet your appetite:

1. Data Beget Data: As Weiner puts it, "One of the most exciting parts of the LinkedIn platform and the LinkedIn ecosystem is that the more members we attract, the more deeply they become engaged, the more data is being generated. And that data can be leveraged to create more relevant experiences for our members and better return on investment for our customers. Data really powers everything that we do. So, it powers algorithms that will suggest people you may know, so you can build out your network. It can suggest groups you may like that you can join and share information and knowledge."

The notion that participatory, open databases can achieve a network effect, where every new participant makes participation in the databases more compelling to others, is hardly new. But LinkedIn takes this to another level, using the data it collects to fuel more engagement and more participation. This is the unique capability of structured content - it is more susceptible to algorithmic alchemy.

2. A Global Labor Marketplace: LinkedIn believes that if it can collect enough information about people and companies (and it already has over 2 million company profiles), it can create a global labor marketplace that efficiently moves the right person to the right job, something that could fuel tremendous new levels of productivity and economic growth. How often do you get to wrap a big business vision with a clear social good? As importantly, this thinking supports my belief that many data products can pivot from information repositories to true industry marketplaces. 

3.  Core Competencies: LinkedIn has clearly set its sights on becoming a provider of internal corporate directories, something big companies need, but rarely execute well. And what a beautiful idea: companies get better and more powerful internal directories while LinkedIn reaps huge new numbers of public profiles. And might I add that this is a wonderful example of Perkins' Law: "No organization outside the data business will voluntarily maintain a database if there is a viable alternative to doing so."

4. LinkedIn and Outlook: In an attempt to stir the pot, Fortune suggests to Weiner that Microsoft should buy LinkedIn and integrate it into Outlook. Weiner demurs in response, but this raises what I think is an hugely under-appreciated possibility for LinkedIn: to become the world's best spam filter. LinkedIn is uniquely able to assess the legitimacy of someone sending you email, as well as your interest in receiving it. The notion of building an identity layer into LinkedIn, and a lot of other vertical market databases, remains an area of huge opportunity.

My happy conclusion is: a lot of these opportunities are not unique to LinkedIn. There are lots of exciting opportunities for smaller, vertical market data products as well. Read the full article and put on your thinking caps!

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