LinkedIn API Plans to Compete with Facebook

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728219_connect_it.jpgDan 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.

More at TechCrunch and AllFacebook.

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6 Comments

  1. Scott, this is an excellent post (partially because I’m still on a high that LinkedIn announced this). Here’s food for thought – I’ve read in various places that many of the “widgets” that have been developed for Facebook are kind of useless, little toys.

    I realize that having an API doesn’t mean that you’ll only get useless toys – a perfect example is what Google Maps has done, how many awesome and useful spinoff sites are there that incorporate cool mapping functionality (for an overly entertaining site to answer this question, check out http://googlemapsmania.blogspot.com/)?

    If you buy into the stereotype that Facebook is for young cool people and LinkedIn is for older business people (very general stereotype, I know), I wonder what that means for the interfaces built? I’m not going to call them widgets now, perhaps they will be much smarter, more useful and practical applications to interface with the LinkedIn data.

    I hope that the API is going to be open enough to allow real, meaty functionality. I hope that JibberJobber (a personal CRM) would be one of those that can have a one-click add function (and many other functions interfacing with LinkedIn).

    Very cool 🙂 🙂

    Jason Alba
    CEO – JibberJobber.com
    :: self-serve job security ::

  2. I seem to be having a problem , subscribing to your RSS feed. It comes up with error 302. Let me know if its a known error or if its just me . Ive tried firefox and IE. Im using Eset Firewall and im not sure if its turned on . Im not Great with PCs. Ill revisit your site and see if you have responded. much appreciated

  3. what do they smoke at LinkedIn? oh come one facebook is an internet God, there is no way any body is going to compete with them,, unless apocalypse occurs or 2012 comes 🙂

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