By Alex Iskold
Facebook team are no doubt preparing for their user base of college students turning into professionals. Launched in 2004, Facebook quickly grew to become the number one social network for US college students. Today the company is viewed as an important property and there were rumors last year about a billion dollar acquisition by Yahoo!. Why? Not because college students have a lot of money to spend. It's because college students grow up to be professionals with big wallets. Facebook is seen as a grooming ground for a future prime advertising audience, which is the reason for valuations north of $1B.What happens to people after they graduate college? Most of them get jobs and launch their professional careers. So Mark Zuckerberg and his
It is likely that changes will take place on Facebook, as it will certainly see an increase in the number of professionals (as the current users age). The first step towards this was taken when Facebook finally opened its doors to anyone - meaning non-students can now sign up with Facebook. The future Facebook is likely to change even more to become a destination for college students and professionals alike. This puts it on a direct collision course with a leader in professional networking, LinkedIn. In this post, we will take a detailed look at LinkedIn and assess how well it is positioned for this battle.
Traffic and Size
We start by looking at site size and traffic data. The LinkedIn home page puts the current number of LinkedIn users at around 9M.
Another insightful data point comes from looking at the chart of page views on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Two things about the chart above are worth noting. Firstly, Facebook has over 6 times as many page views than LinkedIn. Secondly, and more importantly, LinkedIn page views have been steady and Facebook's are rapidly growing. Could this mean that even though the LinkedIn network is growing, people are not actively using the web site? Lets look at LinkedIn's features to see what would make people come back.
LinkedIn Profile and Connections features
The current version of LinkedIn offers quite a mix of features. A lot of the features are very nicely done, but on the other hand some features seem to be incomplete. The basic profile allows the user to fill in details about their professional career and education. The My Contacts Tab lets you manage your connections. You can see the list of people you are connected to and drill into everyones profile. Surprisingly though there is no way to sort by company, geography or position. Ability to order results is noticeably missing throughout the site, which is a shame because this data is ripe to be sliced by many criteria.
My Contacts also lets you do an instant search for your former colleagues and classmates. This is actually very handy, as it shows you all people on LinkedIn from the companies that you worked at and colleges that you attended. However, two things about this functionality can be improved. Firstly, it should be replicated under the general people search, since not everyone will know to look for this feature here. Secondly and more importantly, the results are presented as a simple scrollable list and so are difficult to process.
LinkedIn people search and networking
At the very foundation of LinkedIn is the notion of a network. The idea is that you can search the network to find people and ways to connect with them. LinkedIn features a powerful people search that allows you to search by name, geography, company and occupation. This is designed in such a way that if you define enough constraints, you will get back just a few results. However, searching for someone with a common name without much additional criteria is difficult, because the results returned cannot be ordered. It would particularly handy to be able to order by degrees of separation.
Not only does LinkedIn allow you to find individuals, it helps you find leads. This a very powerful feature that I have been using a lot to establish business connections in target companies. As an example, say you want to find out who is responsible for Marketing at Netflix. Here is the search and the results:
One of the matches above is VP of Marketing. You can drill into his profile and see who you can reach out to for an introduction. I have used the introduction feature of LinkedIn twice and both times it worked out well - I was introduced and people responded to my inquiry. What I wish though, is that LinkedIn creates a wizard that helps you with this process. The wizard could show you different paths, through different people, and take into consideration strength of different relationships. In other words, a wizard that tapped into information about the network to help you.
Other features: Jobs, Services and Answers
The last set of features we'll look at is a bit of a mix. The Jobs feature allows people and companies to find and post jobs. I have personally never searched for a Job via LinkedIn, but I did advertise a position two or three times and found it ineffective. The response was poor compare to Craigslist and the price was twice as high.
The Services tab allows you to look for a service and see peoples recommendations. This is a great idea, but it seems to be done in the rather peculiar way. Surely Dentists and Graphics Designers cannot be treated in the same way - because of the geography. Otherwise, this seems useful and will become more useful as more people rate services.
Answers is the newest feature on LinkedIn and it allows people to shout out a question to your connections and experts. This seems like a very good idea, particularly to be able to ask people in your network - since you trust them. Note that in the picture below, one of the top questions is Jason Calacanis asking who are the top designers in the world. He probably was not satisfied with the list of top Graphic/Web Designers from the Services tab!
Wanted features: Show me the network!
Notably absent are features that let the users feel the network. For example, it would be great to see a visualization of all of my connections as a network; and on a map. It would be also great to be able to explore my network, using a visualization technique like Thinkmap. Another more subtle thing that is missing from LinkedIn is the strength of the relationship. Not all of my connections are equal, some are much stronger than others. This is a very valuable piece of information that can help a lot with things like lead generation. It is not easy to capture the strength of the relationship, but even a trivial heuristic like 'number of times I've clicked on someone's profile' would be a good start.
How does LinkedIn make money?
There are appears to be a range of revenue sources here. The major one is banner and text ads that are embedded through the site. The ads appear to be fairly generic with no or little sensitivity for my context. Another revenue source is the Job postings. The site states that there are over 1000 job postings. If we assume that this is how many new jobs are posted monthly, based on $145 per job, it amounts to about 1.75M annually. Certainly boosting number of job listings would be a good revenue source, since there is practically no overhead for LinkedIn to maintain this feature.
LinkedIn is an excellent, respected service that is used by many professionals. Most of the people that I know professionally are using it today and many of them like it. Guy Kawasaki recently posted great tips on using LinkedIn and did a poll of his readers:
But whether LinkedIn will be able to survive the growth of Facebook is not clear. If the two companies collide, innovation and feature set will play important role.
Today Facebook is much more about interactions and staying in touch - on a practical basis - daily. LinkedIn is about staying connected over longer periods of time and leveraging business connections for business purposes. It seems to us that LinkedIn needs to evolve more towards the Facebook model, where people can interact more on the site via profiles. Unlike Facebook, the interactions between individuals on LinkedIn cannot be open to all - but the idea that people interact on the site is important, because this is what keeps them coming back. What do you think about this? How do you see LinkedIn evolving?