Friday, December 14, 2007

Soical Inbox Wars: LinkedIn Tries to Close the Facebook Gap

As an ever-broader swath of professionals setting up Facebook accounts the buzz amongst content industry professionals sometimes has it that LinkedIn has lost its mojo. Compete statistics show that although LinkedIn is no match for Facebook in total audience it has grown its overall monthly audience more than 500 percent in the past year and has downright robust month-to-month growth. A lot of this growth has been based on major improvements in basic social media functions - ahem, it took you how many years to allow people to post a photo of themselves? - and some of the growth has been based on improved networking features and user-generated content from LinkedIn Answers. As noted in the LinkedIn blog the list is getting longer quickly with a an integration toolkit that is enabling BusinessWeek to integrate LinkedIn content into their news portal . LinkedIn is also enabling its members read news that's about one's company and read by people in your company and your personal network.

While some of these are rather tame efforts - the news feature won't be of much use to small businesses not covered deeply in the selected mainstream news sources - it's the sum of the parts that business information providers need to look at carefully. LinkedIn grows through members inviting new people into the LinkedIn environment, but the challenge for LinkedIn, as it is with any media service, is to keep people engaged once they get there and to give them a reason to make LinkedIn a must-visit site for professionals. As it stands now, though, It's must-visit for very specific types of functions - it's not a "check it every hour" type of experience.

The rapid rise of Facebook is based on its ability to act as a "social inbox," generating a stream of content and events from members that makes it the ultimate online water cooler on both a personal and professional basis. LinkedIn's addition of applications toolkits and mainstream news are a step towards that effect, but it's still feeling its way towards the level of personal engagement that allows Facebook to appeal to professionals trying to connect to their peers.

LinkedIn has enormous potential to become a "must-have" context for business information providers to integrate into their own environments and a key portal on which to ensure the presence of their own content. But it needs to get some of that personal, "water cooler" touch into a product that has long been strong on basic structure and professionalism but short on personal charm. Here's hoping that LinkedIn can continue to accelerate both its prowess in content integration as well as move towards tools and design elements that will enable it to bridge more of the gap between its "strictly business" roots and a new generation that's not afraid to show their face to the public online.
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