Technology Guide: Interview - Linked-up thinking


The Wikinomics principle is coming to a website near you. Peter Crush speaks to LinkedIn's marketing director, Patrick Crane, about how global connectivity will be the activity of 2008.

Forget Facebook; it is so 2007. The first - and some say the best -social networking website is LinkedIn. It has been the place to affirmties for career-minded business people ever since 2003, and while itsyounger upstart of a brother has hogged the populist limelight, LinkedInhas silently been getting bigger. Last autumn, it hit the magical onemillion UK members mark - Facebook has 3.5 million - and globally it isgrowing by another one million people every 22 days. In fact by the timeyou have read up to this sentence, 25 new employees will have addedtheir details. At this rate, LinkedIn will hit 35 million members by theend of 2008.

Ask each other for help

If you are still unconvinced about the HR significance of anincreasingly wired-up wiki world, LinkedIn aims to ram this concepthome. Not only does it want members to passively link up by being oneach other's contact lists, it wants them to collaborate deeper byenabling them to ask each other for help. It will be possible throughadditions to the LinkedIn site, an announcement made as Human Resourcesmagazine talked exclusively to one of its directors, US-based PatrickCrane, the former VP of marketing at Yahoo!.

"The purpose of LinkedIn was to maintain connection with people yourespect," says Crane. "With more than 15 million names on the system,we've reached a critical mass where phase two is possible If you're in aprofession, why not ask others what's going on in it, or what you needto get this or that done, or if anyone knows someone who can solve aparticular problem."

It's happening through an 'Answers' application, which has been testedsince March. Members can type in a question and wait for replies - verysimilar to the wikinomics model. But it's a bold move. So far asking andanswering questions has been restricted only to those within the firstthree degrees of separation - a friend of a friend of someone youactually know. It guarantees those answering questions feel comfortableabout who is asking them, as they are already closely connected tosomeone they know, and so are trustworthy. The plan this year, however,is to extend the facility across the whole site. If it goes wrong, itwill breach the important element of mutual acknowledgement that currentLinkedIn acceptances depend on.

"A network is all about people being predisposed to help one another,"says Crane. "On Facebook you can only see friends of friends. It'slimited, and not based on trust. We're encouraging people to considerbeing 'open' as the raison d' etre for being on LinkedIn."

Open to new ideas

The demographic breakdown suggests that membership will be open towikinomics-like activity. "The average age of LinkedIn members is 34,"he says. "They have about 30 connected people each. We hope we will helpcreate a free flow of ideas. We want to create an experts marketplace,connecting buyers and sellers of information." In theory, if everyonehas the same safeguards as everyone else in allowing people in, the'purity' of LinkedIn should be maintained.

"Every time someone new joins, the probability of getting better answersincreases all the time," adds Crane. "HRDs should not only be able tosurf our site to source new people, they should be establishing theirown networks."

The other change is that from now on, all questions and answers can becrawled by Google and Yahoo!, which means the people who asked andanswered questions can easily be found, and HR directors can then maketheir own introductions to these people.

"Around 25% of our membership base do people searches every week. Atfirst we expected members to say: 'What can LinkedIn do for me?' We havebeen surprised to find just how happy they are helping other people.LinkedIn isn't a verb. It's a state of being."

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