Dan Farber at ZDNet reports today that in a conversation last Friday, LinkedIn founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman told him that over the next 9 months, LinkedIn will be opening up to developers via a series of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).
What this means in plain English for non-techies is that LinkedIn will make it possible for developers to build applications that not only use LinkedIn data, but actually perform LinkedIn functions. For example, Hoffman said that one possible use might be to “create a way for users who spend more time socially in Facebook to get LinkedIn notifications.”
If they take it one step further, like Facebook has, they could potentially not only allow external applications access to LinkedIn data and functions, but could actually embed external applications within the LinkedIn site. Think, for example, of bookmarking someone’s profile on del.icio.us and tagging it, right there within LinkedIn. Or displaying RSS feeds from your blog(s) on your profile. Or one-click synchronizing data between LinkedIn and your contact management software. The possibilities are endless. To get an idea of what the potential could be, check out 10 awesome things built on the Facebook API.
I knew this was coming. On MLPF, there has been quite a bit of discussion about Facebook vs. LinkedIn. Former VP of Marketing and now adviser Konstantin Guericke wrote:
Facebook is well-designed and fun, but does not offer much business utility. And it isn’t designed for that, so you can’t fault Facebook for that. I do think that most people outgrow Facebook by the time they get married and/or have children.
LinkedIn caters to the primary need for most of the people in the 30 to 65 crowd.
At the time, I replied to him off-list because I didn’t want to piss off anybody at LinkedIn, but in light of this announcement I think I can now say this:
Generally speaking, I agree with you, Konstantin, but I also can’t help but think that the LinkedIn-cofounder-major-shareholder hat you wear is pulled a little bit down over your eyes.
Facebook has become the new hot spot for the Web 2.0 tech elite. Why? Because of the Facebook API. It is the ONLY major player that is truly extensible – not just by outside apps scraping data or Flash widgets you can stick on your page, but by truly integrating applications directly into the Facebook user interface. And that is cool – SO cool.
To get an idea how this might affect LinkedIn, consider the mass migration from Friendster to MySpace. Why did everybody move? Was it because the platform was so much more open? Yes, but only indirectly. See, what happened was that the “creatives” – musicians, artists, clothing designers, etc. – moved to MySpace because they had freedom to express themselves in their preferred medium – visually, musically, etc. Everyone else moved, not because they cared about those things, but because everyone else followed the creatives who they wanted to be around.
I predict the same thing happening to LinkedIn if they continue to stay disengaged from Web 2.0 open architectures. The Web 2.0 digerati may only be a tiny fraction of the LinkedIn population, but if LinkedIn continues to lose its cachet with them because of their refusal to open up architecturally, others will gradually follow. The Jaxtr widget is a perfect example [Konstantin's new company, Jaxtr, had just announced the availability of a voice application for Facebook, but they have nothing available for LinkedIn because the closed architecture won't allow it]. Another example is that Facebook didn’t have to develop their own Q&A application [like LinkedIn did] – a third party did it.
Bottom line: not only is this an important competitive move for LinkedIn, it should be great for users in the long run.