October 29, 2008, 9:02 PM — Wednesday's email brought this announcement of applications from LinkedIn:
Today we're announcing many more ways to interact with your network on LinkedIn. Whether it's a new way to create projects and collaborate, share information, customize your profile, or gain key insights, the new LinkedIn Applications deliver.
You may have had the same thought I did.
I've been a member of LinkedIn since the service started. And the fact is, I don't really interact with my network on LinkedIn. I can count on one hand the number of times I've contacted someone using the service. Other tools such as email, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have largely supplanted it for me.
With about 30 million members and projected revenue of US$100 million in 2008 from the subscription services they offer, LinkedIn is profitable. But it has nowhere near the buzz of newer startups like Facebook, with over 60 million members and revenue of up to $350 million. It may be an excellent place to connect with people, find a job, or recruit employees, but I don't believe that introducing a few applications -- all of which are available already elsewhere -- is going to drastically change that situation.
LinkedIn is arriving very late to the social applications party. Comparing your Amazon reading list with those of your network, sharing your blog posts and travel plans with your network, or using online workspaces -- these things are not novel, and you are probably already doing the same thing elsewhere. Are you going to limit yourself to the LinkedIn world to do them? Perhaps LinkedIn would be better off providing an API into their network or networks for use by external application developers?
Furthermore, though LinkedIn claims that applications are developed using the OpenSocial API, the platform is not publically available. The company makes this statement:
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.
If I have an application with a clearly compelling value I don't need the approval of LinkedIn; I can just build the application either by myself or for a different platform. This is not the way to attract developers. And developers are needed to create the applications that will attract people to LinkedIn. Not rehashes of existing products.
After all, as my recent experience with the iPhone app store shows, it appears that there are many excellent productivity tools that don't involve sheep throwing at all.