Reid Hoffman, former COO EVP of Paypal, co-investor in Six Apart, good friend and generally smart guy has launched LinkedIn today. He and his team have been working in stealth mode and I've been anxious to use their service after all of the discussions with Reid about it.

There have been a bunch of networking sites launching these days like Ryze and Friendster. LinkedIn is more focused on business networking and has a bunch of innovations to make it more useful for connecting when you are trying to network seriously (vs dating sites).

Anyway, I have no direct financial interest in LinkedIn, but I may invest if I have the opportunity in the future. Reid is a business associate so this is somewhat a shameless plug for a friend. Having said that, I like it a lot so far.

UPDATE: The discussion has moved to the the wiki

46 Comments

Well there's no description on their site of what exactly it is they do, but it seems like perhaps they are a professional version of Crushlink.com?

OK - I invited over 50 people. So you and Reid are gonna start flowing deals - right? That seems to be the only thing to do there.

I signed up and looked around the site. While they have a nice clean site the site networking capabilities are weak. If you can't search for people outside your own network, it is useless. I think they are missing the point, if you have a business networking site you should facilitate the process of finding other people to work with.

They just need some time to brew. Ross invited me as jonl@well.com after Marc and Joi had invited me as jonl@polycot.com, and the system didn't recognize me though I was logged in. Kind of a messy technical flaw: guys like me with a million email accounts need a way to ensure that all invitations resolve to one account.

I got four separate invitations to this in the space of one hour today. Joined, and poked around a little. First impressions:

* I wish it had faces. Adam Greenfield is right--that's Friendster's killer app.

* I tried to use it to contact somebody (a person I already knew, but wasn't explicitly connected to), just to see how it worked. It wasn't clear to me until *after* I sent the request that I had to "upgrade" to follow through. That creates a very awkward situation, since by the time I'm told I have to upgrade, the person is already expecting my reply.

* I'd like to be able to search and see if someone in particular is already on the system.

* I don't know if I like having to draw such explicit boundaries between "business" networking and "friend" networking. The lines between business and friendship are somewhat fluid for me. I'd like a system that acknowledges that fluidity.

I've gotten several requests to forward requests. It worked quite well. I was recommending someone to someone else.

Nadeem, look again, the point is that you can search for people not in your network and ask your network to refer you.

Liz. Agree faces would be fun. I think this network is trying to be more practical though. Not really "look, here are your friends" but "look, here are your friends' friends' and here's how to get referred to them..."

This has huge potential for the future of networking. I imagine that there will be a lot of 'noise' in the meantime until certain sites/protocols become standard - or the different services are able to talk with each other. The few similar sites that have already been mentioned can only multiply I would guess. I wonder if the 'first to market' principle still holds true these days? Ebay and Amazon launched into a smaller playing field...

I can foresee this kind of 'trusted network' idea becoming a serious part of our online and real world persona's. I would love to be walking through a crouded conference room and have my mobile buzz if I walk past someone within my network - even if I don't personally know them. That would make going to those events a much more fruitful experience!

I see a lot of talk at the moment about how your 'reputation' will become more and more important to your life and I can completely see how. Networks such as LinkedIn can only serve to enhance that 'reputation level' by demonstrating who you rub shoulders with - rather than people having to rely on dodgy self-written bios that appear next to your name in publications etc (not that any of my bios are dodgy of course ;)

Pete, I like where you're going with the idea of standard protocols - some kind of semantic-Web standard for friendship, affinity, reputation. Then (and I acknowledge the difference in intent between the two) I wouldn't have to spend hours essentially importing to LinkedIn everything I've already invested a fair amount of effort creating. at Friendster.

My thoughts here.

Peter, the faces are a big win though. Rendezvous iChat was great at ETCON because you could see the people in the room as name +face, even without having to chat to them.

Faces make great icon proxies .

Liz, I think the concern at LinkedIn (because I asked Reid about this myself) is that pictures could quickly turn it into a dating service, which is not what he's trying to build.

Nadeem, the idea of the site is specifically to disallow trolling for people outside your network. If they're not in your network (i.e., within four hops of you, I believe), then you can't be recommended to them, and so LinkedIn won't allow you even to see them. If that's what you're after, Ryze will do the trick.

Jon, you can add more e-mail accounts to your profile, which LinkedIn will then recognize if you're invited using them.

Another site along these lines, is Ecademy

It currently has 14,000+ members (with an admittedly UK bias)

You can find my profile here

Joi, I think Nadeem has a very valid point. Once you register, you are stuck until you invite more people. It is not clear, at first, what you can do on this site (apart bring in new registrants) since every action to find out more, or search, is gratified with a "your network is empty" message.

Why should I bring peers to a system that is so rigid and secretive? How do I enter and make contact with a network of people who don't know me first? That view on networking makes me think of a private club (and one that works by invitation only). My first feeling is that it will become a A-list private club, unless it opens a little bit to favor true networking, by discovery as much as by invitation.

How is this different from all the other networking sites out there that haven't worked?

Yes, I'm skeptical. My experience with networking is that it is inherently "squishy" and not amenable to automation. You can automate the record-keeping aspect, but actually making and nurturing contacts requires a human.

My headache with all of these sites -- LinkedIn, Ryze, and so on -- is that you have to go "there" to make it all work. You need to enter in you contacts (the import from Outlook is helpful, I guess).

What I would like to see is a system that infers and extends the networks that already exist in blogland -- like these comments, blogrolls, and so on -- based on stuff like FOAF. And it would then present you with your 'network' -- readers, commenters, and those you read and comment on.

Its too much work to try to operate in all of these worlds, just like it is too hard to stay logged in to more than one public IM network.

Is this just a retread of the sixdegrees.com concept (before they flamed out)? How 1990s! A new dotcom company.

Joi, I do apologize for the multiple trackbacks. My MT kept returning errors saying that "Ping 'http://joi.ito.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/3176' failed: HTTP error: 500 read timeout". I thought that your server was too busy and retried pinging, only to get the same error several times. To my defense, I did check if the TB had gone through here before pinging again, but was fooled again because it takes some time to appear.

Please feel free to delete the extraneous TBs, and raise the issue to Ben to see if the trackback mechanism can be more foolproofed against the network quircks ;-)

No problem Francois. My problem. My DB and templates have gotten huge and take a long time to rebuild causing many sites to time out.

As for LinkedIn... I have a few requests, but like it so far.

I think that it's a great way to keep in touch with your current network too. It would be great if we could export our immediate network to some common format as others have mentioned. Would be a great way to keep current contact/employment info for friends.

Also, would be nice to have an easy way to list industry association, non-profit boards and government posts more efficiently. They're not really jobs, but positions that should be searchable.

MetaReputationAPIs. For a long time I thought that's what XPertWeb was. But it's clear that folks see this as an important standard for interop. But the question is - does Reid see it that way? Jonathan Abrams of Friendster has madxe it clear his has no intention of opening up his world. Maybe that's what Reid's contribution can be to our open world?

I got invited to LinkedIn, which makes the inner things and comments way easier to understand now :)

The resumé builder is not bad, but why should I build that again there when it's on my weblog already? I tried to link to it, only to discover that LinkedIn manages to strip your HTML out, so it's impossible to create a link somewhere on your profile. Since the "gratin" of the blogosphere is here (I spotted the entire Six Apart board :-) and that the creators are in no way ignorant of all things web and blogs, this must be a conscious design decision, which I get as another signal that they want you deeply trapped into the site.

The $100 (or whatever will be the service fee) question becomes: what is the added value of this system compared to my current networking tools and habits? If it cuts me from things as basic as hyperlinks to my (and others) weblogs, why would I rely on (less pay for) it?

Back to the CV thing, if LinkedIn would give people the ability to link to their own site, that would be very helpful. It would have to index that page so that it still retains the ability to find out members based on their résumé info. I find it much simpler and doable than waiting for some concensus on a CV exchange format. Plus you retain the control over that sensitive information and you can keep it updated without having to go through all sorts of sites for outdated copies.

But it's only a beta, and they're looking for feedback to improve it, right?

LinkedIn's model will create the most trusted network for business networking:

http://www.corante.com/many/20030501.shtml#33458

Ross

But is it really a full network, when it's behind closed doors? Who ultimately benefits from the network? Reid does - through profits. The people are the content - but as long as the trusted system is behind closed doors - it falls short of it's potential. What Pete, Adam, Francois and myself and in some ways Stowe are asking for - is a trusted system that ALL social networks can leverage - not just one. An open trusted network .....

marc coined it - MetaReputationAPI's

my mobile phone can call other networks - that's what makes it useful. i choose to use the network I'm on for my own personal reasons, but I'm glad there are others (competition etc) and that I can talk to them.

comparing that to LinkedIn etc might be a bit of a jump, but I don't see why competing sites can't allow cross-site communication too. After all, if the system works as it should, then all contacts to your network would still be gradeable by 'reputation' - no different to it working in a walled garden environment - is it?

Hi all. In all of the work around the launch, I won't have as much time to cover all of the points in advance, so let me take some highlines.

What's the goal of LinkedIn? LinkedIn allows two people, who link to each other, to exchange networks for professional goals. "Exchange networks" means that you will represent this person and their network to your network (on a case by case basis); and that you will represent your network to this person and their network. It's very "web of trust." Why professional? So that the point of the interactions in this space is clear, and that everyone knows who to invite or not. (Would you introduce this person to your other trusted business contacts, at least for some good specific reason?)

Why not pictures? I agree that pictures are very humanizing. This was a tough design choice. However, pictures quickly tend to degrade the site to dating. If we can figure out a way to avoid that (and maybe an editorial process, ugh, is the way to do that, or maybe black and white, or maybe... and so it goes), then we'll add them.

Closed and open networks. This is an ultra-long and difficult discussion. I have a lot of experience with eBay and PayPal, with reputation, with identity, with fraud. A distributed "open" system of payments won't work. I'll leave room for the inevitable long argument later, but trust me -- lots and lots of smart payments people have been working on this for a while. There's a reason that the currency that works is a national one (us $ as an example), and not various invented currencies.

How does this apply to LinkedIn? LinkedIn is designed, at its core, to be intensive on the web of trust. There are many sites that promote "new" connections by allowing anyone to sign-up and try to contact each other. These sites are designed for people who want something, but not for people who have something. LinkedIn is designed for people who have something ... for example, a network of trusted connections. On LinkedIn, I can say "I invest in consumer internet companies", and I will get only reasonable things. If I say that say (here) with my eMail address, I will get deluged. And so I won't. (Liars paradoxes in language are great things.)

So, yes, it's a closed club. But it's *your* closed club. It's closed for your privacy. The general trick about then allowing other people to handle any data is how do you guarantee that the club stays closed to your circle. There are other channels for "anyone see me / contact me." LinkedIn may give that as an option in the future, if it makes sense as a service offering.

I completely agree with Marc, Pete, and others that reputation is the key. In a sense, the LinkedIn forwarding is "please give me this specific person's reputation on this specific contact request", so that I know how to handle it.

And for Katherine, I completely agree that networking is about human contact. This is a way for two people to easily represent each other to their respective networks.

Marc: I want to read your stuff more carefully before I would try to say something useful.

And, my thanks to everyone (believers and critics) for the thought and time on these issues. We're trying to do it right, although sometimes it's a little gray.

And, Ross, just scanned your article (under serious water here). One comment for now: yes, that's what we're trying to achieve. Great. Mind if I quote you?

Reid,
Here's a simple answer to the pictures issue - only display them for people who you have made a real contact with, not in the search. Get rid of those creepy ameoboid link graphics and put the faces there instead.

This maps nicely to real-world introductions, where you are introduced face to face.
You could show the faces in the link request chains too.

Also, keeping the faces small works fine - iChat's 32x32 ones and OS X Mails' 64x64 ones work fine. This can discourage more dubious pics.
If you're really paranoid about unsuitable pix, you can add an exception based 'refer this pic for vetting' link like friendster does.

I liked the closed aspect of it as compared to Friendster. It makes the network more valuable and meaningful.

I do think that the "photos inevitably lead to dating" theory is patronizing, since I would assume most participants would know which of their photos are appropriate for LinkedIn as compared to Friendster. But I really don't care so much what people look like in a professional networking context.

I'm curious about control of your network, will there be something like asymmetric linking and fine grained control such that I can accept an invite from Alice who links to Bob but somehow indicate that I personally know and don't recommend dealings with Bob to my own network? Weighted bidrectional vectors seem like an obvious necessity in these social graph networks but I haven't seen any site that accomodates this yet.

Dav,
Most of the participants do know -- the general problem with online communities/social networks is trying to be careful about the bottom 2% setting the tone. Just try any chat room on AOL or Yahoo. Etc. Etc. Or the friendster bulletin board. Or some of the pictures in Frienster. I should be clear that I love Friendster, and am the lead investor in that company. (Jonathan Abrams is a good guy too.) So, my goal is not to patronize the 98% of the people who know, but prevent the 2% who don't from lowering the tone. And I agree, less useful anyway for professional.

Yes, that sort of control will come in the future. What we've released is only the beginning; after we fix any remaining bugs, we're moving on to develop some more of the things on the drawing board.

Another quick thought -given that you're all about setting up trusted connections, acting as a Public key repository for your customers seems like a natural fit.
Once you make contact, including a PGP key as part of the contact details would be encouraging.

The worry with this kind of service is that though any participant can only see the n degress of linked-ness that you enable, you as owners can see the whole thing, and thus have preferential access and knowledge of connection structures, as well as stated contact reasons.

Reid, point taken. Although I personally would lean towards having either a 'Flag for Review by Staff' option or community-policing mechanism option (via thresholds/voting like /.) for any user editable data on the site, I can understand arguments against bothering with that.

Reid -- you can quote anything on my blogs.

Also, Clay and I have a bet going on the distribution of connections within linked in at http://www.corante.com/many

Who do you think will win?

I made a claim on my blog (timing.blogspot.com) on Wednesday that I thought my LinkedIn network would be 1000+ by today; however, at this point it is only 695, with only 7 contacts confirmed. Still the rate of growth is pretty impressive. Have the wonderful folks at LinkedIn said anything about uptake, publically?

I think there is room for a number of sites catering to audiences with different needs. A site not requiring referrals and where everybody can contact anybody is like a big mailing list: great for sales people or people trying to build a network. Kind of like a networking event where you can meet new people and exchange business cards.

The value of a private network is not just to better manage your own contacts, but to be introduced to new people via the people you already know. As a consultant, I can tell you that every single client has come from a referral by someone who knows me and my work well. I much prefer being introduced, and I really look to the people in my network to be a filter as well as a catalyst for opportunities.

Exactly. It's like positive and negative feedback loops in emergence. Your friends are both your inputs as well as your filters. With better filters, you can increase the scale.

I can imagine having an email policy that says that I will only accept messages through referrals if they are not on my whitelist.

So what makes this better than something like Ryze? I've been finding a fair amount of usefulness over there. Though I signed up for LinkedIn too.

(My ryze page is over at http://www.ryze.com/view.php?who=snooze)

i'm not so impressed - the first thing i tried to do was email management and it doesn't work. i entered another email address. i tried to change the primary address - a no go; i tried to confirm the address - hot happening either; i tried to delete an address - nothing doing. too bad something so basic is going to keep me from going any further with it.

ok - i think i may have discovered the problem. looks like spamassassin is keeping me from getting the confirmation emails, so i assumed they weren't being sent out.

Gregory,
Depends entirely on how much web of trust is important to you. There are hundreds of people in my LinkedIn network (after less than a week of being live) that would never sign-up for Ryze. (They are, like I am, only interested in being approached through people that I already know.) If it isn't important to you, then Ryze is probably a better site.

What bothers me about so many of these services is that they require paid membership. I wish there was some economically sound way to provide the "connection" services for free, but the transaction costs is only required when you actually utilize a connection for profit.

What I'm thinking is similar to the way you only get changed on ebay when the transaction is complete.

I don't know how to do it, but I feel the killer-app aspect of this is a model that can facilitate the above need.

My gut telling me it is going to come from the distributed interconnections between bloggers and not in a centralized site like linkedin, freendster, ryze et al.

It's a tough business model. I mean, how do you get compensated for developing this software and allowing people to use it?

Paid memberships seem like the only way. Think of it this way - it also keeps out the rifraff. You don't end up with thousands of bogus, dead profiles. (Kind of like SixDegrees was after awhile...)

Now, if someone could come up with a protocol for interchanging with these services, there would be an interesting business.

I mean, you could always use the FOAF (or similar) file format to interchange data, but if you wanted to turn it into a business, you could create an interchange platform that joins all of these disparate networks together and charge people for access. Even better, you could charge the original network owners an access fee for allowing their members to interconnect with the other services. It increases the value of *everyone's* membership and the value of each of the services.

I have no idea what linkedin is, but they just sent me 4 emails asking me to confirm my email address. Where the hell did they get my email address and what do they want me for? My email address is private and nobody knows it, so them asking me to confirm it is extremely worrying to me. I am unemployed and have no money, so it can't be a business thing.
If it's an invitation from someone I know they should make it clear who it's from.
Sorry, I don't trust them one bit.

Kevin, the invitations are coming from friends of yours who are inviting you via LinkedIn. They don't harvest email addresses.

Hi Joi,
I don't believe that for one second. My email address is known only by my 5 closest friends and all 5 have strict instructions NEVER to enter my email anywhere on the internet other than direct emails to me - never to go through any other service. And they were NOT invitations - it was emails asking me to confirm my email address, telling me to log into my account. I do NOT have an account with them.

Problem solved. Somebody signed up at linkedin and mistakenly entered MY email address as their own - it was missing a single number. That person's error meant that I was sent the emails asking for me to log in and confirm my email address. Thanks to a helpful linkedin staff member the problem has been fixed (hopefully). :-)

I've found LinkedIn to be a very useful tool for finding contacts. For example, for an MBA class, I had to interview employees at a company my group was researching for a paper. LinkedIn enabled me in California to connect with and interview BMW employees in Colorado and Germany. I like LinkedIn over all other sites because of its focus on professionalism. I like it so much I've written some LinkedIn tips to help out my friends. Other sites have a lot of personal information, some of which makes me cringe. I wonder if some people who post crude content on such sites as Friendster and MySpace are aware of the possible professional implications of having their content read by a coworker, hiring manager, etc.

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