Becoming a business-critical tool: LinkedIn’s next steps

It has been quite a week for LinkedIn. First it introduced two cool innovations as a result from their monthly developer ‘hackdays’ and it then announced an IPO, to take place later this year.

To start off with the innovative part; I learned about “InMaps” and “Swarm”, two interactive ideas that aim to do more with all the user data generated through LinkedIn.

LinkedIn’s new InMaps is an experimental project which visualizes the connections within your network. LinkedIn filters through my connections and both identifies them (e.g. into key influencers) and groups them (into specific sectors) for me. When I look at my own example it’s interesting to see how my professional networks are neatly clustered along the lines of friends, people related to my current job and fellow-students who I did my MBA with. I can then label these clusters accordingly.

Another recent experiment by LinkedIn is Swarm. This is an interactive tag cloud displaying the most searched companies and terms on LinkedIn. For instance, Dell and Deutsche Bank are amongst today’s most searched companies. Rather than it being a fairly static tag cloud, this one ‘swarms’ around, displaying the most recent searches and content items.

Interesting to see all these new experiments cropping up in the same week that LinkedIn announced its intention to raise as much as $175m from an initial public offering.

Just to summarise the key things I’ve learned about LinkedIn:

  1. It’s looking at ways to make the best use of rich datasets – Senior LinkedIn execs increasingly feel that LinkedIn has thus far only scraped the surface in terms of target audience and the use of the user insights and data available to LinkedIn.
  2. It wants to become a business-critical tool – In line with the previous learning point, LinkedIn have embarked on a mission to become an integral part of any professional’s day. New functionality like LinkedIn Signal and InMaps are definitely useful tools in this respect.
  3. With an upcoming IPO, the goalposts are shifting – The proposed IPO should really help LinkedIn in both growing its audience as well as in converting a large number of currently non-paying members into users who are willing to pay for LinkedIn products on an ongoing basis.

Main learning point: it’s fair to say that there are lots of social media based technologies and sites out there but LinkedIn arguably has a lot of potential to become a long lasting success, serving a designated target market with a range of clearly defined needs. It will be interesting to see how experiments like InMaps and Swarm will be converted into products that will be used widely (and potentially paid for) by LinkedIn users.

Related links for further learning:

http://mashable.com/2011/01/24/linkedin-inmaps/

http://blog.linkedin.com/2011/01/25/linkedin-swarm/

http://blog.linkedin.com/2011/01/27/linkedin-ipo-registration/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-28/accel-s-jim-breyer-says-now-not-best-time-for-linkedin-initial-share-sale.html

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