LinkedIn upgrade offers inside scoop on companies

Louis Gray: Silicon Valley Blog talks about the recent upgrade at LinkedIn. The big kahuna of online professional networking has recently added detailed profiles on 160,000 companies to its site that give juicy details on employee turnover, corporate connections, median age, etc. at companies like Google, eBay, Microsoft, Facebook, and others.

Louis Gray says,

"While corporate profiles have been around forever, LinkedIn adds "special sauce" through its large user database, determining where employees come from and leave to, what other companies they are connected to, and who may recently have changed positions or joined the company. Good stuff."

I agree, I think it’s a fantastic idea and if LinkedIn has all this user data, it makes sense for it to do something with it. But the accuracy of this data is highly suspect because for one, it depends on the users to update this information and how regularly users update their data is highly debatable. Secondly, are the folks on LinkedIn typical of everyone at that company, in other words how representative are these numbers of the entire population?

Gray goes on to say,

"LinkedIn opening up this data will keep company marketeers and PR on the alert to see how their data is being portrayed, just as they should be watching their coverage on Wikipedia, for in this case, it’s their employees’ collective data that is pushing the details, without a filter, and just maybe, the truth will reveal more than they had ever imagined. I know I’ll be spending a lot more time poking around LinkedIn now myself."

I can see a need for companies to stay on top of and manage their perception on LinkedIn and I can also see this as a great resource for folks looking for new employment or investment opportunity. But it’s not clear as to how LinkedIn is planning to monetize this feature. The site can promote account upgrades by offering this additional feature, but I didn’t see anything on the site to indicate that they are promoting this in a big way. Or is this intended to increase user engagement? Probably little of both.

I’ve blogged in the past on how LinkedIn needs to do more to increase the ‘stickiness’ of its site, and this seems to be a step in the right direction but how effective it is, remains to be seen.   

Microsoft's Facebook Valuation is a $15 billion smokescreen

Stacey Higginbotham, threw out this question to her readers on GigaOm,

"..at the time of the Microsoft deal, Facebook had about 50 million users who were valued at $300 each. Readers, care to tell me how Facebook users can achieve that value? "

First of all, let’s be clear on one thing – Microsoft did NOT pay $15 billion for Facebook nor has it ever indicated any desire to buy the company, so any  comparison with the AOL-Bebo deal is just plain wrong and misguided. Microsoft paid $240 million to get a small equity stake, exclusive rights to sell third-party ads on world’s most popular social networking site and get access to Facebook’s 50 million+ (and rapidly growing) user base.

In other words, for  a sliver of the valuation, Microsoft got access to everything that Facebook could possibly offer in terms of ad revenue potential and it didn’t even have to buy the company. Now do the math again, the valuation per user comes to less than $5.00 ($240 million/50 million users), how sweet of a deal is that?! Note: Currently, Facebook has over 68 million active users.

Zuckerberg is a smart guy but he’s no match for Gates/Ballmer negotiating prowess. Gates & Co. have made it impossible for other companies, namely Google to buy Facebook by assigning a value so astronomical that no idiot on planet Silicon Valley would be willing to pay. Not to mention, that they will probably have buy out Microsoft’s stake at that same asinine valuation.

I would suggest that number crunchers in the valley stop getting distracted by the OMG $15billion price tag and take another look at why Microsoft’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Silicon Valley New Tech Venture Meetup

I went to the Silicon Valley New Technology Meetup for March to see demos of hot new web2.0 technologies and mingle with fellow entrepreneurs and investors. I can’t stop raving about this Meetup group with over 2000 members and its organizer Vincent Lauria. Take a fantastic lineup of new tech firms, and add to that mix – free pizza and beer, what’s not to like?! On Tuesday, we saw yet another great lineup of some of Silicon Valley’s best up and comers.

Lendingclub.com [Rob Garcia] – Featured on CNBC, this site offers a platform for peer to peer lending. The revenue model was traditional financial industry standard – processing fee and portion of the interest as management fee. Interesting concept for sure, especially for the un-creditworthy or low credit rating population. However, concern about privacy and lack of recourse in case of non-repayment didn’t win this venture many fans, at least in the room.

Photocrank.com [Jeffrey Tannenbaum]- This site allows you to add comments/call outs to any photo online. While some comments are hilarious, some can be quite tasteless, given that the masses are free to add their own twist of humor to the photos and one person’s sense of humor is another one’s … The revenue model sounded like it included a mix of revenue-sharing and product placement fees.

Genietown.com – [Florian Brody] This site offers a way to connect local folks with local services, where even amateurs can pitch their services like dog-walking, exotic dancing, etc. since as the site claims, everybody is an expert on something. I thought this was the most entertaining presentation of the evening. The presenter/founder has a very dry humor. He got his point across on the importance of  localization by giving an example of how a cleaning lady in Vietnam is no good when you live in the bay area. Point well-taken! However, monetization was iffy since the final transaction can be conducted off the site. One more interesting feature is the ability for vendors to rate their customers. He quoted eBay as the inspiration for this mutual feedback policy, but anyone who’s been following eBay news lately knows that eBay has modified its policy and sellers are no longer allowed to leave negative comments for buyers.

Caachi.com [Tom Hicks]- This by far was the hands down winner for the evening. Caachi allows indie film makes to have an online channel of distribution and get 75% of the proceeds. Members can view films that have typically only been available at film festivals for a download fee of $.99 and above. I thought it’s a brilliant concept and has a very promising revenue model where the site gets a percentage of the sales from the movies, but this fell short on the (OMG) social networking functionality. The site doesn’t offer any way for viewers to rate the films which probably hurts the viral word of mouth marketing that sustains most social sites but the founder assured the audience that member rating and reviews are coming soon.

Is LinkedIn becoming irrelevant?

During a recent bomb scare episode at work, all of us congregated at a ‘safe’ location. The discussion turned to social networks as folks started scoping out folks who weren’t on their preferred network. Everyone was on LinkedIn but one person stated quite matter-of-fact and many others concurred that LinkedIn is irrelevant, FaceBook is where it’s at.

There’s no doubt, LinkedIn is still the Big Kahuna in the online professional networking realm, but social networks like FaceBook, MySpace are giving it a run for its money when it comes to visitor engagement. The main engaging factor on LinkedIn is the ‘Answers’ (Brilliant knowledge base!) and if you’re a prolific offline network (or stalker), ability to add to your network. The "Jobs" section is a great addition but not sure what the success ratio for this vs. traditional career sites is. I am still trying to figure out how effective the "Service providers" feature is, but it looks promising.

But that being said, if you have both FaceBook and LinkedIn accounts, which one do you visit more frequently? Chances are it’s the former. Because of its open platform, FaceBook allows many fun/engaging applications including many popular widgets, which encourage repeat visits. The most LinkedIn offers is the recently introduced ability to add your pictures (yawn!).

So the challenge for LinkedIn is how to increase engagement for a site who’s primary audience is professionals? Here are some thoughts  -  tie up with local (OMG Offline) professional networks and partnering with entrepreneurial magazines to get some interesting content. And here’s another way, how about opening up the platform to developers?

The bottomline: LinkedIn must innovate, if it wants to give its members a compelling reason to visit the site more frequently and stay longer. If it doesn’t move fast, LinkedIn runs the risk that the popular social networks will chip away at its domain by adding content and features for professionals, who by the way are already on these social sites, albeit for fun, but that may soon change.