Monday, May 16, 2005

A Conversation with LinkedIn: Moving Towards Profits through vContent

The LinkedIn service for professionals has progressed rapidly from a networking service to link trusted business contacts with one another to a more full-fledged content service that leverages contacts data to help job posters and job seekers and to provide directories of professionals who may have skills appropriate to a wide variety of business needs. The network of contacts grows at an astounding rate - well into the millions of member profiles at this time - in part because it's a fairly "spamproof" system: it's generally only possible to make contact with people through LinkedIn via a direct agreement to link or via a compliant intermediary contact. But is it a model that makes money? In a recent chat with LinkedIn's Marketing VP Konstantin Guericke there's optimism that they are heading towards a profitable quarter sometime in the next year and a clear "heads down" focus on profitability that has them focusing on initiatives that can drive them towards that goal. The job posting service, which charges corporate posters to list openings, is building revenues, and the directories service provides a level of content and focus that would be appropriate for contextual ads. Other services such as their growing alumni listings and groups services are also potential hooks for revenues. The features grow richer and richer as does the content and highly human contextuality. All in all it's a service that promises to provide great value to professionals, a self-marketing tool with great power.

The question is, though, whether LinkedIn is ready to make the jump from being a tool to being a full-fledged content service. The features in LinkedIn are great and maturing rapidly towards that goal, but there's still not a steady stream of content coming out of the service that makes it a "must-visit" tool for people in their day-to-day work life. LinkedIn has done an excellent job of building a rich and robust database and has made it useful to people finding jobs and services, but the knottier issue of using that network to build actionable intelligence is still out there to be solved. There are a lot of ways that LinkedIn can build profits, but first and foremost it will be important for them to move beyond the linking and referral business to more robust views of what people do in their daily professional lives with those links and referrals for driving not only jobs and contracts but market intelligence and news. A great company in the center of the vContent movement, one that will benefit from looking beyond the database and into the content needs of their members more carefully.
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