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LinkedIn opens up to developers...mostly

LinkedIn is going open, or mostly open.

I use LinkedIn quite a bit. I've found that it serves a very effective purpose (something that can't always be said for more chatty social-networking sites like MySpace): recruiting. I've done all my Alfresco recruiting through LinkedIn, and have ended up with excellent employees and no recruiter fees. Zippo.

Now LinkedIn in opening up its platform to outside developers, in an effort to compete with Facebook. The timing couldn't be more opportune, as LinkedIn offers something that the other social-networking sites don't: a place for professionals to get work done, rather than throw poo at each others' "walls," as the New York Times reports:

The move is one of several LinkedIn is making, including launching a beta version of a redesigned home page, to keep its less flashy but more business-minded contacts network site vibrant alongside rivals MySpace and Facebook. LinkedIn said it wants to be a hub for business information.

"When we look forward to 2008, we see people and professionals more and more going beyond the connections and actually using LinkedIn to make themselves more productive on a daily basis," said Adam Nash, senior product director, in a video on LinkedIn's blog.

The first move is a deal with BusinessWeek that will match articles to people's profiles. Good move. Good content.

It also hints at one of the potential problems with LinkedIn's approach. The company doesn't have plans to fully open its platform to outside developers in the way Facebook has. Rather, it plans to serve as a gatekeeper for which applications will be allowed on LinkedIn, as Reuters has reported. This may end up making LinkedIn the bottleneck to innovation on its platform - it's hard to know in advance what will work in an application, and now LinkedIn will be centralizing that bet-making in one organization. Maybe it will prove to be a savvy decision-maker, but given its track record so far, this is doubtful.

LinkedIn is my preferred networking platform. Whether it will become bigger than that is largely up to how it interacts with its users and potential developers. Opening up is a good idea. Bottling up that openness is not.