I write this post not because I think I have all the answers, but because I'm interested in the ideas of other people who take an interest in social software.
I've written a lot about LinkedIn, because I see a lot of potential in that service-or at least its potential to power and improve a lot of the other services I use. At the same time, I've grown pretty frustrated with the service because I don't see it moving towards fulfilling that potential.
The biggest problem with the closed social networks is that other than the actual exercise of connecting to people, there isn't a lot to do on them. There are two solutions around that. First, you could build the entire suite of services that you thing people would like to do. That's what I think MySpace is doing. On MySpace, you don't just connect, you communicate, you consume media, you have the flexibility to express yourself...those three things right there are about 90% of what their demographic wants to do... And that's what makes it so popular.
The other alternative is to plugin and power everyone else's services. That now seems to be the Plaxo model. Every now and the Plaxo tells me someone I know has a new phone number...and that's useful to me. Other than that, I have no idea what its doing. Its just kind of sitting there somewhere, lurking in the background, making sure I have people's updated information. Maybe I should be concerned. I don't know what the business model there is either, but if you're not going to enable your community to consume your services, then I think that's your only option. (BASF..we don't make any of this stuff...we make it better...)
LinkedIn seems to be caught in between. They really haven't successfully built out a suite of services that people want to use on a regular basis, but they don't seem too interested in powering anyone else's either. Hence the stagnation in their site traffic:
I don't even think they need to remake the whole service to significantly improve the usage. Here are five lightweight features LinkedIn could implement to get themselves more usefully integrated into my life and maybe a decent percentage of their network:
- Mimic the Plaxo update functionality with contacts. Contact info on Linkedin is an "excuse me" feature. You can input all your info, but they never remind you to, so, at best, most of the Vcards you can download only have a name and an e-mail. On that note, it shouldn't even be a Vcard. Automatic plugin. If we connect on LinkedIn, your phone number should be in my Outlook.
- Recognize that people aren't just static contacts in the world of professional networking--they're continual reminders. LinkedIn should integrate with my calendar, contacts, and tasks, and
remind me to talk to particular people, and at the same time
provide me with their one-click contact info. Even if you're not trying to sell anything to anyone, the task of keeping your network fresh is still very task oriented. You make phonecalls, you send emails, you do lunch. One major problem I seem to have with a lot of the people I meet is that I get their contact info, but then I have no way to manage my desire to see them once a month, drop them a biweekly e-mail, or whatever.
- Allow me to write my own notes on people. Do you know how many times random people IM me and I have no idea who they are. It would be even cooler if they had a little popup that was reading my e-mail, IMs, etc, and would just do me the favor of telling me who people were with my own notes and an abridged version of their Linkedin profile. I think this would be a killer applet, because, as of right now, I don't keep this stuff anywhere. I know some people who make notes on their Palm Desktop. That's archaic There's got to be a better way, no? I keep people on Linkedin and if I interact with them, Linkedin should also allow me to track and annotate those interactions. If anyone knows of any good people management solutions, I'd be interested in hearing them.
- Let users customize their LinkedIn profiles enough to become landing pages--destinations. I don't like the idea that I do all the work of inviting, connecting, writing my bio, etc., but the page only helps publicize me within the walled garden. I should be able to put my company logo, plugin del.icio.us links, whitepapers, whatever. Its funny, because I call Linkedin the Friendster for professional people, and that's what it is. Unfortunately, Friendster is dying because their profiles are so rigid and dead. LinkedIn should aspire to be MySpace for professional people... a vibrant social network of thoughtful communication and "professional expression"... not just connecting.
- Reed's Law tells us that a network is more valuable when each and every node on the network can become its own network. In otherwords, a group of groups is more valuable than just one big group. Therefore, any social network would have to be crazy to do anything to hinder any kind of group creation. In fact, they should foster it as much as possible. Yet, the "groups" feature on LinkedIn is very limited in scope. In fact, its kind of an exclusive club for "established, real-world organizations (e.g. legally recognized entity, membership costs money, budget, members meet face-to-face)." It is not designed for "cybercommunities (people who read a blog, members of a mailing list, etc." Well, why the heck not? To be honest, I'd be much more interested in connecting up to the 500+ people who read my blog then the hundreds of people who attended the WeMedia conference. I mean, that was an interesting conference, but I don't really share anything in common with all those people... yet my blog audience I actually talk to all the time and we're probably a more lucrative connection than two people who just went to the same conference. If I form a group of "people who like the same stuff as me" and people agree to be in it, why wouldn't LinkedIn desire to be the place where those people connect? Seems a bit ironic that an online professional network isn't interested in connecting up other professionals networking with each other online. If you really want to manage my professional network, you're going to have to let me group it... and not with an application form, an approval, etc., but in minutes like Meetup.
So, how about you guys? Anyone out there with any ideas for what LinkedIn or some of these other social networks could do for you to get more integrated into your life?