Are you LinkedIn?

When I first started at Union Square Ventures, I made a concerted effort to make sure all my various only profiles matched up.  I was rewriting my bio, resume, etc. and so I figured I'd update everything at once, especially if I was going to be a useful networker at a venture firm.  That included getting up to speed on LinkedIn.

I've written before about how I didn't see the value of social networking sites, other than for dating.  (I will admit to going on a Friendster date....although, at DTUT, I think every couple there is on an internet date.)  Anyway, the problem is that there isn't anything to do on these sites, except maintain your network.  You basically only logon to accept invites and invite more people.

Well, I've had a change of heart in the last few weeks.  In the last few weeks, using LinkedIn, I've helped a company that Fred invested in find a top tier job candidate and also pulled an "off the list" reference on an entrepreneur we're currently evaluating.  For an analyst who, at this point in his career, relies heavily on the extended networks of others, its incredibly valuable.  Its a great way to find knowledgeable people and people who can be spoken for by people you trust.  I've even got Fred to buy off on the value of this interconnected network of professionals.  (I'm sure he'll probably blog about it soon. UPDATE:  He did... but he doesn't ever trackback, so just go here.)

Here are some observations about my experience with it so far:

1)  The permissions system is great.  You can choose to only be contacted through others on the site by referrals from people you know.  So, if Bob Smith knows Sam Jones and I'm friends with Sam, then Bob needs to ask Sam for an introduction to me.  Even then, I can choose to respond or not before Bob gets my e-mail address.

2) Much of my network is made up of onesies and twosies.  In other words, for many of these people, I'm their only contact.  I think LinkedIn needs to find a way to make a convincing argument for those people to share more.  A lot of people accepted my invites just because they know me and didn't mind being connected to me, but that's as far as the sale went.  Well, thanks folks, but I already know you.  This gets really interesting when we both know other people that are mutually beneficial to each of us...the power of shared networks. 

3) The ease of implementation needs to be experienced.  Signing up is very quick, and the Outlook integration really makes this a no-brainer.  At minimum, if you're on the site, download the Outlook toolbar and open it up.  Basically, what it does is that it looks at everyone you've e-mailed and tells you right away whether or not those people are already on the system.  So, right away, you know who in your real network of people has already bought off on this concept and is probably likely to accept you into the fold.  Voila!  Instant network.  Next, it gives you the list of all your contacts and asks you who you'd actually like to invite to join the network.  Basically, I think I actually connected to six people on my own, but the Outlook plugin took care of the other 80 or so.  Plus, its all opt-in.  If they don't want to be connected to me or join, that's fine.

What makes this really interesting is that groups of people can connect to each other by just advocating its use.  For example, Fordham has a problem whereby it has this huge database of 100,000+ alumni.  Integrating all of those people into a web database, dealing with all the privacy issues, etc. won't be easy.  However, all they really need to do is push LinkedIn as the goto place for Fordham alumni.  They don't even need to sign up for the "LinkedIn for Groups" service.  Just tell everyone to join in and put that they went to Fordham in their profile.  All of the sudden, your opt-in/privacy issues are solved and you've got thousands of people on the service able to contact other Fordham alumni within three degrees of each other.  Cost to Fordham?  Zero.  Benefit to individual Fordham alumni?  Huge.  Benefit to the school?  Well, now they can search and see what all the alumni is up to and the network becomes a real resource.

Anyway, that's my experience with the service.  If you actually know me, feel free to invite me.  I might ignore or turn down invites from complete strangers, but that's to be expected.