Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Commercializing social networks

It was just a couple days ago that I reiterated my claim that LinkedIn doesn't provide anything I would pay money for. I've learned a few new tricks since then and am prepared to admit today that LinkedIn may be onto something.

First I heard from Edward Vielmetti who shared several ways he has found LinkedIn to be helpful. Interesting. That was enough to get me back on the LinkedIn site for another test drive. There I discovered the new LinkedIn Outlook toolbar, which I downloaded. Below you can see LinkedIn kicking into high gear after I inquired (in Outlook) if George W. Bush is in my contact list:

Unfortunately W and I seem to be even more than six degrees apart.

Nice things about the LinkedIn Outlook toolbar: It makes it easier than ever to keep your Outlook contact folders up to date. It can scan your email archives and suggest new additions to your contact database. It also features a way-cool "Grab It" feature where you can drag your mouse over someone's email signature (or any other text) and it will quite skillfully create an Outlook contact entry based on that text. All these features make Outlook easier for me, regardless of what I get out of LinkedIn.

Of course, the LinkedIn Outlook toolbar also makes it easier than ever to upload your contacts from Outlook into your LinkedIn profile. If I ever actually connected with people through LinkedIn, this would be fantastic. For now, that part is kind of like an arcade game where I compete with friends and colleagues to see who can score the most connections.

When LinkedIn talks to Microsoft about developing this concept further, it's scary to contemplate where it can go (scary good and scary scary). It will be fun to watch how this plays out, and don't forget about Visible Path.

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