LinkedIn showed its hand yesterday with the release of its application platform, InApps. If there was any doubt as to the direction of the company, between this and the company's recent investment from SAP, it should be clear now: LinkedIn is for business professionals. This is a work product, not a Facebook killer.
Just look at the applications added to the opening mix--sharing presentations, organizing travel info, storing files--it's pretty clear that these are business tools. You might of thought given last year's interface revamp, complete with photos and a newsfeed, that LinkedIn was going after Facebook. Given that Facebook might have a profitable businessmodel in three years, and that LinkedIn is doing about 100 million in revs, you'd have to wonder why they'd even want to be Facebook.
By building tools meant for the bleeding edge of serious business users and taking money from a huge CRM company, LinkedIn is clearly making a statement that their future is getting deeper into the workflow of their professional users, not in getting a wider userbase and being the place where everyone gathers. Sure, they continue to grow, but what wasn't released yesterday was a resume builder wizard, significant improvement to Groups (which still lags significantly behind Meetup) or a tutorial on how to get the most out of the site. These would have been tools that would have introduced more people to the site or driven more engagement for the masses of people with profiles who barely use the site. Clearly, my dad the web unsavvy accountant who runs a small practice out of his house isn't the intended audience here, it's the VP of Regional Sales for Cisco who wants to eventually plug LinkedIn to the rest of his CRM driven process.
In fact, you could have made a case that if they wanted that wide Facebook-like userbase and a less intimidating onramp for gathering likeminded people who share interests, they should have bought Meetup. Instead, by opening up the platform to Slideshare and other similar apps, it looks they're signalling that stay at home moms and German speakers in Sioux City aren't the people you're likely to want to make professional connections with.
In my opinion, that means that a huge segment of the population is going to be left behind by LinkedIn's value proposition. The more LinkedIn networking feels like work, the less mainstream the usage will be, but also the more actual work will get done. Given that actual work seems very monetizable, I have no doubt that LinkedIn and its business platform will generate significant revenues, but also leave a gaping hole in the market for more casual networkers--ie the 99 percent of the rest of us.