LinkedIn is still my de facto place for storing information about professional connections. But right now I mostly use it like a database – I go there when I need to look up someone or find a connection. I sometimes wonder why LinkedIn hasn’t launched more products and services that pull me back into the application and make it a hub where I really keep track not only of the people I know but my interactions with them and ways I can help them.
I still think there’s an opportunity to build a product that makes me a better participant in my social network. I like to help people when I can, and there are 3 areas of professional interaction that I don’t feel are well-addressed by existing tools:
1. When I need help, route my asks to the people who are in the best position to help
2. Nudge me to follow up with people who are important to me when I’ve been out of touch
3. Make me aware of people in my network who have needs where I am in a position to help
Making such a system work requires that you a) have some sense for my professional social graph, including strength of connection and b) have the smarts to figure out what to surface, to whom, and when. Not an easy task, but valuable if done correctly.
It seems to me that LinkedIn could be something more like what CRM systems are supposed to be – repositories of relevant information about people that can provide valuable insight and action. Given LinkedIn’s collection of assets, I believe they must be working on something along these lines and it would be awesome if they could make it a reality – the new iPad app and their mobile UI in general suggests to me that they are moving more toward needs discovery and interactivity and away from being just a searchable database. A few reasons why I can see this working:
1.LinkedIn has a lot of structured data about people’s professional lives – One key ingredient to most CRM or structured data systems is the presence (or ability to create) structured data. LinkedIn has a wealth of structured data about a given individual’s work history, educational history, business connections, and other important information. This is valuable data for seeding such a system.
2.LinkedIn gets strong signals about what people are doing in my network – hiring needs, job changes, etc. Some of this data is explicit – people post jobs, use their status updates to announce needs, update their profiles when they change companies, and other explicit actions on the site. But there is also tons of implicit data that LinkedIn sees – a given user’s search queries, the pages in the site the user is visiting, frequency of visit, requests for recommendations, etc that are all probably indicative of a given user’s state of mind. For example, if I type in the word “game designer” and search through 4 pages of results, odds are good that I’m looking for a game designer for some reason or another.
3. LinkedIn has made a handful of acquisitions, namely ConnectedHQ and Rapportive, that suggest that they are heading in that general direction. LinkedIn has acquired a few companies that all have competency around CRM or surfacing interesting information about people. Rapportive is particularly interesting because it not only surfaces interesting information about people but it lives in the email stream and gives LinkedIn a persistence they don’t have with most users.
As always, comments are open or you can tweet feedback to me @chudson.