LinkedIn has always been a useful tool. I don't think there is any doubt that it is the world's largest 'self-curated' repository of professional data. It has also grown into a must-have tool for recruiters. However, my relationship with LinkedIn has always left me feeling used. Kind of like that feeling that some poor souls feel when they find themselves in a one-sided relationship where one of the parties, them, is hopelessly in love while there the other is only there because of the existence of a fat wallet. You see that was always my issue. At the end of the day, LinkedIn was only LinkedIn because you shared and curated your professional resume on their site. You the professional provided LinkedIn with an enormous amount of value, but when you took a step back and asked what LinkedIn offered you in return all you were left with was a subscription payment landing page. Now I know there will be those that will say that I am overlooking the value of having your data listed in the world's largest 'self-curated' repository of professional data. I don't disagree.
Of course, all the social networks are to some degree guilty of this, but it's not like Facebook or Instagram have their hand out to users asking for you to pay for features. Rather they add features to entice you to use the site even more. With LinkedIn, if you wanted access to more features you needed to upgrade your subscription. Kind of like Facebook asking you to pay to see who had liked your photos. Anyone that has upgraded their LinkedIn subscription knows that these features translated into greater access to data about your data. The bottom line for me was that all LinkedIn's value was directly related to our information. This is why when I found out about the sale to Microsoft one of my immediate reactions was anger. Where was my cut of those billions? After all, they just sold my data or to put it in context they just sold my photos. Then again should I have been surprised? As the old saying goes a Zebra does not change its stripes? The relationship had always been one-sided. So why would this change now? Oh, I am sure the lawyers ensured that somewhere hidden in those illegible Terms of Service all this is perfectly legal. But you know I still feel used.
The next issue that I have with this transaction was that despite everything I have already said the one thing that made the relationship tolerable was that LinkedIn was independent. It was like Switzerland. Kind of like the rest of the world's relationship with the Swiss you did not fully trust them, but so long as you operated from the perspective that they would always do what was in their best interests you could manage around that. Now with this transaction that the whole assumption no longer stands. LinkedIn has, in my opinion, lost its independence. My expectation is that it will now become more and more Microsoft-centric. Traditionally LinkedIn thru the heavy-handed control of its API has never been friendly to other application platforms. Yes, there was an app for Salesforce, but the added functionality was only marginally better than one would get from using the app natively. In fact, in the last few Salesforce releases, there had been a slow decline in the level of integration mostly in line with LinkedIn's development of its Sales Navigator product. Now with the Microsoft transaction, we shall see further degradation of integrations with competitors because let's face it everyone outside of the Microsoft ecosystem is now a competitor. And I don't know about you, but I have lived in that world. That world where everything was Microsoft. It was not good for innovation; it was not useful for integration; it was dangerous for security and as a result, it was bad for users.
Ok, enough of this doom and gloom. I do believe there is a silver lining. I hope that this transaction will drive innovation. No longer can the players sit back and do nothing when it comes to developing viable competitors to LinkedIn. Let's hope finally Salesforce and others will step up. In fact Salesforce themselves once acquired a company that had they allowed it to develop differently could have I believe grown into a real LinkedIn competitor. That company was Jigsaw a company Salesforce acquired back in 2010. Originally Jigsaw was founded by Jim Fowler, now the CEO of Owler (formerly InfoArmy). The premise behind Jigsaw was to provide a way for Sales Professionals to share and swap data on prospects that were accurate and up to date. Now ultimately we know that Jim Fowler left Salesforce and Jigsaw morphed into Data.com, which is largely today powered by Dun & Bradstreet with the social aspects of the service largely forgotten although we still have Data.com Connect. I believe that the time has come for Salesforce.com to take the bull by the horns and radically overhaul the Data.com brand. They need to learn from LinkedIn's errors and instead of charging users to share their information on Data.com they need to make the service free to use and integrate that functionality right into the Salesforce.com platform. When you look at the introduction of Salesforce Lightning Sync, the recent acquisition of Implisit.com, the opportunity to turn the value proposition on its head and transform Data.com from what it is today into a genuine contact sharing network built right into the Salesforce platform is staring them in the face. After all, we already have the so-called People Profile page in Salesforce although I am not sure if most users even know it exists or what purpose it serves. Take this page as a starting point and transform it not only into the ultimate profile page but one that that can be shared publically while providing a platform to these users for sharing and exchanging contacts with other users across Salesforce Orgs. Whoa, I can see the deep intake of breath across the corporate compliance officer universe. But let's face it this is what LinkedIn was in effect. The difference was that compliance officers had no control over what users published on their LinkedIn profile page. Let's let Data.com return to its Jigsaw roots and flower into the Professional Social Network that it could have become. Let's allow it to become a real competitor to LinkedIn.
In conclusion, I only ask one thing. Let's not forget that it is our users that are agreeing to share their hard-won data with the network and at the end of the day it is that data that is bringing the value. So let's treat user's right and unlike our friends at LinkedIn lets not treat them as a commodity to be horse traded to the highest bidder.
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