Linkedin : from social networking to business intelligence for people

Last week I had the pleasure to be invited to have a chat with Reid Hoffman (Founder and Chairman), Jean-Luc Vaillant (CTO) and Kevin Eyres (Director for Europe) of linkedin who invited a few blogers in a nice Parisian Restaurant in order to talk about their service, its current affairs and its future.

I’d like to point three main things out : LinekIn is now available in French which has much more consequences than the sole translation, their vision of enterprise social networks and the way they position Linkedin about that, and to end, what is according to me this kind of service’s very nature and that Reid Hoffman perfectly understood, coining a new concept called BIP.

Linkedin now in French

At first sight I’m not sure this information may interest you. But the fact a social network platform supports many languages is not only about translation. It means that many contents in different langagues will coexist on the platform. Even if one choose to complete his profile in several languages, that will change nothing to the fact discussions, “answers” will still be available in only one. The language you’ll choose for your interface will impact the language of the information that will be brought to me on my home page and search results. Globally speaking, the question of multiple languages is not trival at all, even (most of all ?), on corporate platforms, within companies.

LinkedIn and enterprise social networks

Users exchange many informations on linkedIn, share their thoughts, give tips and tricks one to the other. Some companies would prefer such things to happen on a private space, with their employees only. Reid told me that was already possible with “company group” and that they were trying to improve that, while knowing the frontier between public and company-restricted spaces and informations is very sensible.

What lead me to my next question : what if tomorrow a company asks to link linkedIn profiles to existing employee’s profiles on their intranet, indeed have their own LinkedIn inside their firewall ?

To the first question Reid answered that was something that made sense and was sometimes asked for. On the other hand, it’s importanto to know which informations can pass in each direction. Filling a profile on the intranet starting from a linkedin profile doesn’t make many problems in terms of governance. Update a linkedin profile is much more tricky because some informations are confidential and can’t be posted on a public profile. This functionnalities will soon be available but the reflexion on whether it would be an import or a synchronization (full or partial) is still on its way.

On the second point the answer came from Kevin. The enterprise social network market is real but making things por employees inside the firewall is not the same job as providing a service to individuals for their own purposes. Different levers to make it adopted, different business models… That’s not that simple. We agreed on the fact that a “personal network” relies on links people create an validate together whereas internal social networks can’t work this way except if companies want to duplicate their org-chart. So, enterprise social networks have to make real interactions and “intelectual proximity” emerge, what’s quite something different. Kevin concluded : “we’re rather in a logic of building partnerships with those who have a true expertise on internal networks”. To be followed.

But one thing is sure : one major issues for services like linkedIn will be to bridge the gap from the “personal side of my business network” and my extended network, mixing my “personal professional network” and my internal professional network according to criterias, rules and a gouvernance that have still to be defined.

In my opinion it’s this ability to build partnerships with major players on the field of enterprise social software that will be decisive at the time when the market will be mature and there will be enough room for two or three players.

And tomorrow. Business Intelligence for People ?

What’s interesting for me in a profesional network ? Linking one to another and building this incredible spider’s web that makes I’m closer to many people than I thought and I’m able to do incredible and valuable things with them ? Yes…but that’s not enough. What’s really valuable for me ?

• Knowing who met who

• Knowing what’s happening to who

• Knowing who’s doing what

• Knowing which ressource, document, information, my contacts found valuable.

• Knowing who’s wondering what. And answer (if I can) in order to show I can help on such issues.

• Knowing I can ask my network a question.

• Identify who’s the person I’m looking for among my contacts and their own contacts…

• To be continued…

This goes far beyond links. Links are only channels that are followed by informations produced by my network. It’s up to me to make a good use of it. That’s the idea behind linkedIn’s new features and apps.

Reid Hoffman calls it “Business Intelligence for People” (BIP). Perhaps “Business Intelligence by People” or “Around People” or “About people” may be relevant too.

The concept is only at its early steps but I find it rich and promising in the contexte of a knowledge economy that mainly relies on people.

Wait and see…