Test-Driving LinkedIn's New Apps Platform

Throwing sheep and swapping vampire bites? Not so much. But early this morning, business-networking site LinkedIn unveiled its new developer platform, loaded with apps aimed at wooing the buttoned-down crowd to its site more often.

“We pay a lot of attention to the mode that people are in when they visit LinkedIn,” said Patrick Crane, vice president of marketing. “LinkedIn isn’t a time killing application; it's a time-saving application. They're in a problem-solving mode.”

Rather than open up its platform, as Facebook has done, LinkedIn is introducing eight new internal- and partner-created apps that have been tailored to the office. New offerings include shareable reading lists with Amazon, business-travel tracking with TripIt, and presentation publishing with Google and SlideShare. LinkedIn is targeting small- and medium-sized businesses, its most active users, with a file-sharing app from Box.net and a secure “workspace” app from Huddle.net, which allows co-workers to collaborate in a virtual space.

“LinkedIn has been very successful in its revenue model,” said Jamie Templeton, vice president of platform products. “The focus now is on providing more to our clients.” How fast new apps are offered depends on the quality of submissions, he said.

The private company, which has 30 million members and has been valued for as much as $1 billion, reported a profit last year, with a revenue model split between corporate sales, subscriptions, job listings, and advertising. Its new apps, which are free to users, offer additional revenue possibilities through premium subscriptions (on Box.net and Huddle.net), retail (Amazon), advertising (TripIt and SlideShare).

“Is this a new business line in itself? No,” Crane said. “But are we providing a lot of utility for the 30 million professionals? Yes. And that activity and utlity will bolster the other four ways that we do make money.”

Testing the new apps in beta mode earlier this week, I was impressed. The interface is intuitive and the offerings smartly tailored smoothly functioning. Still, a critical mass is necessary to make most of the apps genuinely appealing in the long term.

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