A MySpace for professionals?
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 10, 2007
If MySpace has proven a successful model for building a low-cost, high-reward social networking service, others have yet to apply that model to other arenas.
Although the folks at LinkedIn.com are showing promise of creating a professional networking service with comparable reach and success as MySpace.com.
In the last few weeks, I'd received two or three requests to "link" to former colleagues and family members on LinkedIn. As with my original experience with MySpace, I didn't remember having actually set up an account on LinkedIn, but when I logged in in response to the link requests, my usual login and password worked, and a fairly up-to-date profile was in place.
So apparently I did sign up.
Since I've rediscovered LinkedIn, I've immersed myself in the search tools finding quite a few other former co-workers, as well as some former students and teachers, and even some old classmates.
From an original Contact list of 1, I've grown to 25 in the last couple of weeks.
That's not a lot not nearly the 2,000 "friends" I have on MySpace but LinkedIn's model is a bit different from that of MySpace.
How it works
LinkedIn is more ofa business contacts tool than a social networking tool. I have more than 2,000 contacts on MySpace because I write about music and nearly every band or singer out there today has a MySpace page. It's a useful way for me to track bands I'm potentially interested in writing about. More than 700 of those bands are from San Diego County (really!), which is my primary area of coverage. (I also will write about nationally touring bands that come to town, so it's not a bad idea to keep tabs on some of the best bands in other cities, too.)
LinkedIn isn't about hanging out with friends it's about marketing your skills to potential clients and employers and, for employers, finding the right person for the job.
It's sort of Monster.com meets MySpace.
As with Monster, you fill out a resume (although LinkedIn refers to it as your Experience field), as well as professional skills and significant awards.
On LinkedIn, you can also seek or give recommendations from and to your contacts.
The real strength to this point with LinkedIn, though, is that if you see someone on the contact list of one of your existing contacts whom you want to get in touch with, you can request an introduction from your common contact.
Just as MySpace has succeeded so wildly because it allowed bands to quickly and easily connect with their fans, it seems quite possible that the above feature will also let LinkedIn find its niche.
Already, LinkedIn says that 12 million of us have accounts.
That might not be the critical mass necessary to become a cultural phenomenon, but it's not chopped liver either.
Paying the bills
What isn't clear is how LinkedIn plans to make money. As with MySpace, accounts are free. Unlike MySpace, you can pay for an upgraded account getting immediate e-mail access to all account holders (rather than having to contact them, request to be added as a contact, and then e-mailing them).
And the About LinkedIn page says you can advertise on LinkedIn (the MySpace revenue model), but I've yet to see an advertisement on the site.
Whether enough employers will be willing to pay for the upgraded accounts or enough folks will pay to advertise on LinkedIn remains to be seen.
But in the meantime, it seems to be growing by leaps and bounds. Nearly every day, I get a note that former colleagues or classmates have joined (it searches by school and employer and years you were at each).
So the interest is growing.
Stuck in neutral
Friendster.com, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be generating much traction at all. The membership has grown searching San Diego State University in the colleges tab brought up more than 3,000 people. But searching MySpace's schools section for SDSU alum brought up almost 30,000, or 10 times as many.
And when you go to the import address book tool and I type in my Gmail and Yahoo e-mail account info, the number of my contacts with Friendster accounts was less than half of that for LinkedIn.
Friendster's interface isn't as easy to simply browse as MySpace's or that of LinkedIn, for that matter. Their search tool has improved of late letting you search by school or import your address books, as above.
But it's not as easy to use as MySpace, and minus the cool cachet that MySpace has and Friendster lacks, Friendster needs to offer a substantially better user experience not one that lags behind.
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