LinkedIn: Facing Reality
Many of us have been wondering for a while when LinkedIn would get around to opening up its API so others could take advantage of its networks of registered users to build applications that could be spread virally through those networks. Facebook has stolen a march on LinkedIn, first by allowing anyone to create a group, and most recently by exposing an API to allow others to develop applications that use its registered user base and networks -- or what they call the "social graph".
Facebook applications have taken off like wildfire, and with this initiative Facebook has raised the "platform ante" beyond where Google, Amazon, and Yahoo had it (i.e., rich APIs and data sets to query through them, but limited networks of users) for anyone aspiring to build a large-scale web presence. My favorite Facebook app, which I think best (most simply) demonstrates what Facebook has made possible, is the "Friend Wheel". When I look at mine, I realize how many friends I still have to introduce to each other! (Maybe what I need is a Facebook app that implements "graphic friendship" ideas...)
Now there's speculation about LinkedIn getting with the program. Folks fret about whether the LinkedIn UI could handle the weight of a bunch of apps. That's a red herring, IMHO. Based on the relative rate of connection requests I've been getting in the last few days (4 or 5 to one in FB's favor), it would seem LinkedIn has no choice.
But what's even more compelling about what Facebook's done, and why the imperative for LinkedIn is even more urgent, is the economic opportunity it creates. Everyone in the network can now make informed choices of apps to place on their profile pages, and a smart platform player will ultimately do a three-way rev share -- some for the member, some for the app developer, and some (ok most) for itself. It will be interesting to see how soon Facebook gets around to this.