LinkedIn is playing personal assistant with the release of Contacts, an automated contact management service for desktop and iPhone arriving Thursday in limited release.
Contacts gives members of the professional social network a way to bring together their contacts spread across address books, email accounts, and calendar apps. The service, which comes with a companion iPhone application, also hooks into LinkedIn's desktop experience and adds a relationship module to member profiles that includes recent conversations, meetings, and personal notes.
Contacts is the first LinkedIn product to launch simultaneously on desktop and mobile, and offers members a smarter way to stay in touch with their most important relationships, product lead Sachin Rekhi said during a demonstration of the new service.
Rekhi previously founded Connected, a relationship management service that LinkedIn acquired in 2011. With Contacts, Rekhi has ported his app's most essential features to LinkedIn and made them accessible to people in way that provides even more context around connections and makes LinkedIn infinitely more valuable as a networking tool.
For those with access, Contacts replaces the old tab and acts as a place to keep up with your connections, LinkedIn or otherwise. People can connect Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook accounts to import their contacts and calendar events from those services. The app also works with your iPhone address book, CardMunch, TripIt, and Evernote.
Each of the connected contact sources act to educate LinkedIn on your relationships formed through these channels. Contacts are sorted by default to feature the people who you've recently communicated with, though you can choose to view people you've lost touch with or sort by a number of other characteristics. Email history and calendar meetings are surfaced and made accessible in contact records and on member profiles to remind you how you know a particular person.
Facebook and Twitter integrations are noticeably absent. Rekhi said that LinkedIn's focus is on professional relationships, which means contacts from these social networks may not fit here. The reality is likely less pleasant and could have to do with API restrictions imposed by two companies notorious for blocking competing applications from accessing friend lists and data. The Connected application, for what it's worth, included Facebook and Twitter as contact sources.
Still, there seems be plenty of solid relationship data to go around, a fact that becomes increasingly evident as you view contact records or profiles. Atop the Contacts page, LinkedIn will nudge you to say hello to your contacts with job changes or birthdays, or suggest you ping people you should connect with on your next business trip.
The complementary, standalone Contacts application for iPhone acts as a full-featured address book replacement. Contact records are as replete as they are on the desktop and include phone numbers, email addresses, relationship history, and Web updates on your connections. The app also includes to-dos to nudge you to reconnect with people based on set reminders or life events.
Collectively, Contacts many features and actions give people a reason to visit LinkedIn each day, a mission the company has been pushing aggressively of late. Contacts offers people something to do, in addition to just reading the updates and articles shared by their network. The logic is that you'll visit LinkedIn or pick up the Contacts iPhone app ahead of an important meeting, job interview, business call, or trip to brush up on your relationships and learn more about the contact in question. Those with an interest in nurturing stale professional relationships will find daily incentives to come back to the Contacts app.
Starting Thursday, LinkedIn Contacts is available in limited release, meaning that just a subset of the company's U.S. members will receive invitations to the application. LinkedIn plans to introduce Contacts in all markets in the coming months.