Facebook's platform head-fake and the ball that LinkedIn dropped

The other day I signed up for the Web 2.0 Expo Conference Social Network (I'll be speaking at one of the workshops). It was powered by Crowdvine. I found it mildly annoying to have to retype my professional information when that already existed somewhere else on the web--namely LinkedIn. I tweeted that Crowdvine should integrate LinkedIn import, since I'd seen a few places hack it, and then very quickly got this response via Crowdvine's Twitter account:


  "@ceonyc We're just waiting for LinkedIn to release their API. So far they've just released the PR announcements."

It was true. It's been over a year since LinkedIn talked about releasing some kind of a platform and API's and we've seen very little. There were a few throwaway integrations into mainstream web publisher content, but little else.

Their initial move towards the platform and API talk came soon after Facebook grabbed the spotlight with its platform. After the buzz, particularly around the initial applications, died down though, it was obvious that the Facebook platform, in that incarnation, didn't live up to the hype. The quality of applications was really low, and everyday new measures needed to be put in to decrease friend spam. These measures, and the eventual redesign that pushed applications off to another page in your profile, left applications handcuffed and unable to spread as virally as they had in the past.

Initially, that made it seem like LinkedIn's wait and see approach might have paid off. Instead of opening up a platform, they focused on a redesign that made LinkedIn more user friendly.  They also focused on driving revenues, expected to be $100 million.  Facebook, meanwhile, went back to the platform drawing board, stubbing its toe on Beacon, but eventually coming out with Facebook Connect.  Crowdvine uses Facebook connect for me to see which of my Facebook friends are going to the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. 

Facebook Connect allows me to bring my social graph to any application. I can see which of my Facebook friends are already using something and invite more. This gives keeping my "real network" on Facebook a direct benefit. Even Google recognizes that just because someone is in your Gmail contacts doesn't make them your friend, which is why they recently updated their address book functionality.  I think Facebook Connect is just the beginning of a second, potentially much more successful push at powering various applications by Facebook.  Lessons learned from F8 and Beacon will pay off.

In the meantime, LinkedIn remains a pretty closed place where data goes in and rarely comes out. The odd thing about Facebook's charge at being the defacto social graph for all applications is that they don't really monetize data and people--they monetize pageviews. LinkedIn is supposed to be the one that monetizes people, whether they use the site extensively or not. Recruiters pay to access LinkedIn's network of professionals.

You'd think that a site where huge revenues come from directly monetizing the presence (not even the participation) of users would be doing more to get people on it.

Facebook's value proposition to users is pretty clear: All your friends are there. Whatever functionality and applications you want to think about on top of that is gravy. You want, and dare I say at this point, need to be there because everyone else is there.

Don't get me wrong. I use LinkedIn nearly everyday, have nearly 1000 contacts, and I get a lot of value out of it. I'm in the minority, though. Most of the people I know are only on there because they got invited and do little more than accept invitations. That might bode well for the experience of being on there--most people don't get spammed--but at some point, that fails to create additional value. If you're selling people and you don't even have a quarter of the people your competitor does, you better know those people cold--and that has to come from active usage. The more I do on a site and the more that site plugs into other places that I'm active, the more data that site is going to build up on me.

That's why we're bucking the "do one thing" Web 2.0 trend at Path 101. We think that giving users a number of complimentary things to do around discovering their career interests, the better the picture of them as a potential candidate we'll be able to create--and the more people we'll capture through diverse methods.

Facebook may not have figured out how to monetize me yet, but they know me better than any other site--the data's either all there or well within reach. Perhaps Lotame, with its interesting ad platform built specifically to be powered by social network data, will be the answer.  The East Coast company, which just raised $13 million, uses user data to "target the most influential members of social networks and measure a campaign’s success as indicated by user generated content related to the brand."

I think at the end of the day, if you have a platform made of people, you've got to open up so that you can gather a much deeper understanding of who you have.  Just allowing people to connect and throwing a rather remidial free text search on top of superficial profiles has worked mostly because the alternatives--the noisey firehose of Monster and Jobs 1.0--was so bad, and the need to hire great people is so high.  Side note: What other market besides recruiting is the pain point and business criticalness of a task so high and the solution sets so bad?  To get to the next level, I believe LinkedIn will need to fully commit to a very comprehensive and even risky platform strategy--and iterate on it like Facebook has. 

Unfortunately, they might already be making too much money to bother, leaving most of it's potential on the table.