LinkedIn’s Intro App – There Might Be a Silver Lining

You can’t have failed to notice the brouhaha surrounding LinkedIn’s Intro App; ‘security consultants’ from far and wide are ranting about the potential for the app to be a huge security hole or target for hackers, but very few, or none that I noticed, had spotted the silver lining here; there’s huge untapped potential built into the way we communicate and the 3rd party sources of data we could integrate into those communications.

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Your real social network, your most accurate social network--is your email contact list

Firstly, I'm not downplaying the security risk of routing your email through a 3rd party whose job it is to collect as much information about you as possible. Not to mention the serious security breaches LinkedIn suffered recently. But I think it is important to point out that for corporate users, LinkedIn’s app doesn't (yet) support Microsoft Exchange; the only supported email platforms are Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail and iCloud, so the imminent risk is related to personal information rather than corporate data.

Secondly, there is a silver lining to all of this; and if LinkedIn had thought about it, they could have exploited this idea in a much more business friendly way. Business users are, after all, their entire user base. As Google and Yahoo are finding out through the US Legal process, there are some obvious sensitivities to ‘scanning’ customers email for content; even if the scanning helps the provider serve up ads. I’m sure LinkedIn thought this through, but the poorly thought out implementation of Intro does make me wonder.

Back to the silver lining. Think for a second about two groups of users, if you will.

The first is a set of ‘contacts’ you've collected for quite some time; a group of people you barely know and communicate with rarely. These will be colleagues, both ex and current, people you ‘meet’ at meetings and at trade shows, recruiters, industry friends etc. In short a small network of people you mutually collect and connect to in the hope they’ll help you find your next employer.

Then there’s the second group; a dynamic list of constantly changing contacts, each individual waxing and waning in popularity as you work through your corporate life, and the various projects and tasks that make up your year. This is a group of contacts that self-prune’s and self manages its own pecking order—a group that changes in size, depth and breadth almost daily and one that auto-populates in terms of users and relevance as you move to job to job, company to company.

Of course the first group is your LinkedIn contacts, and the second is your email contacts. LinkedIn is very much static, and I see Intro as being LinkedIn’s way of helping you connect more, or to be blunt, gain more static contacts for their business model.

On the other hand your real social network, your most accurate social network--is your email contact list. I don’t mean your address book, I mean the real time dynamic set of people and email addresses you are communicating with right now; your sent items today, yesterday and the day before, the people you collaborate with the most. This is where the real value is, and where email service providers could really show you who you connect with, when, why and for how long. The dynamic nature of this group also means it’s up to date, as of right now, and importantly if you chose to you could extend your view into that group down several degrees of connection. Think about who you've emailed today, who those people are emailing, and who their contacts are emailing—that’s a real business social network. And all of that without getting a single email from a recruiter.

If LinkedIn Intro had helped us identify those live connections without intruding on the way we connect, that would really be an App, that would really be useful, and in an enterprise or business context it would be infinitely valuable.