April 12, 2012


(Image) I’d like to venture a guess: You use LinkedIn as an online Rolodex. That’s if you’re signed up for the social networking site to begin with. Many people seem to view LinkedIn as an excessive network they want no part of - a waste of time.
For those skeptical of LinkedIn, you’re sure to laugh at this: The founder of the site, Reid Hoffman, recently stated, "If Americans really learned how to use LinkedIn, it would raise the country’s GDP.”
Hilarious! Hoffman seems like a funny guy! Right?! You’re thinking, “Adam, he was shamelessly self promoting his website for personal gain!”
If those are the type of thoughts floating around in that brainsicle of yours (a brainsicle is similar to a popsicle, except it involves your brain being on a stick, or wedged, er…), well, then, my job here is to fix your melon.

To give this not-to-be-underestimated statement the blatantly obvious attention it deserves, here’s that line, again: “If Americans really learned how to use LinkedIn, it would raise the country’s GDP.”
How Reid Hoffman describes the network
Ask the average person,” Hoffman says with frustration. “They think it’s a place they keep their CV online and maybe have some connections with people they know professionally.
They don’t think of it as a place to get business intelligence, to research problems, to establish an online presence where other people in the network can find them. It’s as if we’re a screwdriver in a world where people don’t quite understand screws.
Here’s why LinkedIn could raise the country's GDP
"The future of media and business is powered by collaboration and co-creation" - Brian Solis (quoted from 'The End Of Business As Usual'). 
When I read that, the picture that comes to mind is a business world much different from the reality of the present moment. It’s a world where frictionless collaboration and co-creation allow whole industries to transform overnight, every night.
Rolodex Overload
I’m not attempting to solve LinkedIn’s usability problems here. Rather, my goal is to bring to light some real world cases that I feel are important.
Here’s one problem: How in the world would someone with tens of thousands of contacts (a super connected individual) use LinkedIn efficiently?
Why the extreme example? Because it's exactly the problem people like Vint Cerf have with a network like LinkedIn. Lord knows how much Mr. Cerf has accomplished in his career. Now, imagine, for a second, what he could get done if he had the tools to leverage his professional network to its utmost potential.
A Different Approach
In an email, Vint wrote, “I think the linked-in model is NOT to drown you in information about the people you are linked to.”
Now, assuming Cerf is correct in his analysis of the network (I mean, he is *pretty smart*), there are several angles one can take to bring signal from the noise on LinkedIn.
  • Forget LinkedIn entirely. The social networking website does not provide a sufficient platform for a true business network to flourish. Someone will have to start from scratch.
  • LinkedIn management needs to envision the network as a true business network. LinkedIn would almost act like an entirely separate Internet, in and of itself. Entire populations can collaborate to accomplish tasks, quickly and efficiently. Companies can swap teams for a day, or a week, to do whatever they need to do. And, yes, what I’m talking about here is different than how social platforms are currently leveraged. 
  • Etc, etc. (I could go on forever, well, maybe not forever, but I'll stop here).
Productivity - Lotus Notes
While I've not, personally, used Lotus Notes, from what I can gather (a buddy of mine, who does use it, filled me in) it may offerthat extra dimension to make this network (the one I've been attempting to describe) a reality. Here's Wikipedia's take on Lotus Notes:
Lotus Domino/Notes provides a broad range of integrated functionality including email, calendaring, instant messaging (with additional IBM software voice & video conferencing and/or web-collaboration), discussions/forums, blogs, an inbuilt personnel/user directory and IBM Lotus Symphony, a full office productivity suite. In addition to these standard applications the organization may use the IBM Lotus Domino Designer development environment and other tools to rapidly develop additional integrated applications such as request approval /workflow and document management.
Maybe LinkedIn needs to pivot
In a recent Inc.com article, author Geoffrey James argues, "LinkedIn is all about business and people's resumes. Because its scope is limited to fundamentally dull information, LinkedIn is simply not vulnerable to something "cooler."" I must admit, I believe Mr. James is entirely off in his assumption - LinkedIn is entirely vulnerable to something "cooler." Case in point: Do you own a Rolodex? (If you’re over the age of 25, that question does not apply to you.)
On The Other Hand...
LinkedIn could fail to improve its functionality, usability, and overall flow. In that case, I’d invest in a social site that does make the much-needed improvements. Because they will be the next $100 billion company. (About six months ago, I wrote a little post entitled, “LinkedIn a $100 Billion Company?”).
There’s really nothing knowledgeable to gain from reading that post – I just wanted to point out its existence; I’ve had this idea brewing for a while. I also want to point out that I realize it's easy to criticize - I'm not criticizing LinkedIn here - I'm offering my perspective.) What are your thoughts?
Further reading: links about LinkedIn; articles that can better relay the concept of a business network; and some great reads on where social is headed
  • “This data clearly shows that LinkedIn is a good lead source. But few B2B companies use LinkedIn to its full potential.”
  • “To run a site such as Craigslist requires "continuous engagement between a company and its customers, its community", he says, which he believes applies to all companies and even governments.” 
  • "He added, “In the future, Google’s value will be greater than just search and social, it will be the integration of Google’s business and lifestyle services into one seamless experience that serves as a personal OS … a digital hub for people to share, communicate, transact, work, learn and collaborate.”
  • "I'd like to advance a hypothesis: Despite all the excitement surrounding social media, the Internet isn't connecting us as much as we think it is. It's largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships."
  • "Here's a tiny question. What do you think most people really want? What do you think the average Jane — or even the less-than-average Joe — is capable of?"

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