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LinkedIn, knowledge networks and a nice dinner

As you probably know (and has already probably been announced as scheduled) LinkedIn will be launching localised versions of its professional networking portal in several European countries. One of them is Spain. Kevin Eyres, their (Texan) manager for the continent, has been talking about it in Madrid these days with his (Mexican) marketing and PR manager, Cristina Hoole. I was lucky enough to be there and I’m still thinking about what I heard and saw. For a Spanish account of the event you can see Carlos Montero’s blog over here.

Sushi for your thoughts

Essentially, their PR agency rounded up almost a dozen of people and invited us to dinner yesterday to tell us about LinkedIn upcoming news and comment their ideas. Curiosity, a nice venue, a flattering invitation, and there you had us: as disparate a collection of bloggers, social networkers and community builders as you can shake a stick at, including some old acquaintances. At first I was quite nonplussed about the selection criteria, but as the evening wore on and people chatted, I found out every single one was directly or indirectly interesting for LinkedIn. Because ninety percent of the time we were doing the talking, and LinkedIn the listening and note-taking.

The prosaic part

Kevin told us some interesting things about their their business model and the (relatively) mild effect of the recession on people’s need of their services, and also of where they’re going. Most of what he said about that will either be in the news today or is widely known, but some of it may be relevant:

OpenSocial apps: pre-qualification and revenue. He confirmed that a number of apps based on OpenSocial are coming fast, and they look forward to more. They will be using the Apple model, though, and will vet any aspiring application. Also, Kevin said they’re not closed to any business models and could contemplate allowing apps that charge per use. Just as long as they «add value to the professionals» using LinkedIn. They don’t look kindly on advertising, though.

Profiled news and more: NY Times agreement. Working on previous agreements, they’re adding others to «allow professionals to find the people they know that are related with a news article». That’s something I want to see in action.

Mobility (and iPhone). They already have an iPhone app, and they want to put the network where the user is. Again, something useful.

Translation found. They plan to start with the interface, the user guides and then «other elements» of the site. Not the content, though. We had an interesting talk about filtering and multilanguage sites which I hope gets taken into consideration.

Groups: the real change. Here is where it really got interesting. They vowed to bring real firepower to their «groups» feature (essentially, forums), not just to the administration side but also to the content features. Sharing and publishing elements will become possible. Also, it was interesting to hear about their strategy for creating groups for specific companies (as opposed to domain-oriented ones).

New services: pay for pestering. They also commented some of the changes (group directory, polls). They were consistent with the LinkedIn model of making the reasonable free, and charge for the irksome: now, you can pay for sending a poll to any particular demographic. Something that would generate lots of spam if it were free is sold as prized service… and in the process, grows scarce enough to not bother users.

The vision: a «knowledge network»

The thing I like about LinkedIn is the clear vision, though, and it showed at the event. No growth per se, no diluting initatives, and a clear focus on adding value for the professionals that use the service (and capturing some of it). Kevin explained their aim to become a «knowledge network» where professionals could find answer to their professional needs, both networking and exchanging practical knowledge, and he explained the role their new Groups will play in their model.

Do I like it? Definitely. So much so that the latest Macuarium.com business model rests on the very same tenets they’re now aiming for: a core of shared conversations and knowledge, and criss-crossing professional services adding value and difference from other communities of practice. We already have the communities, after all. The problem is, we don’t have the money (or time to go search for it) to finish the building :-). So progress is slow and sometimes backwards.

LinkedIn should have it hard, but can probably make it. Their professional networking services are not well-known in Spain, since they are very English- and IT-oriented; there is home-grown and imported competition on the ground as well as little general understanding of the differences between a social network and a professional one. That could even be an advantage, as it keeps the membership bar high and thus the demographic more interesting than in rival services. But it will slow their growth.

Their Groups focus (conversations instead of simply networks) will change them more than they seem to realize. A community is not a network, and whereas most people use LinkedIn to reflect, track and use their (offline) agendas, an online community creates new relationships without an offline reference. The focus changes from outside to inside the service… or if you prefer, the network grows in depth.

I pick your brains, you pick mine

So, while I think they got their money’s worth of ideas on «how to make the service relevant to Spanish bloggers» (including too many comments from yours truly, who would never admit to such classification) and raised the awareness of their services among some quite well connected opinion-builders (and others :-)), I can’t say I’m sorry to have had my brain picked. There were many nice people and interesting conversations, and learning about LinkedIn’s vision and business model (and their practical application at a time of evolution) was absolutely worth sleeping only three hours last night.

There was a lot to learn indeed, and there will be more. They’re doing things very well, and I mean the thinking not the execution (which is not bad either). And with their drive to become a «knowledge network» they’re coming right onto a turf that I’m working on and intend to play with for a long time. Thankfully, their demographic and ours don’t overlap completely :-).

One of the most unexpected things I learnt was how they went about picking people’s brains. I don’t think LinkedIn expected us to blog compulsively about their arrival in Spain; publicity may have been a goal (they got a bit), but not the core one. I think last night they wanted ideas to make it better. And I think they (and all of us) got some.


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