The LinkedIn Killer: Wall Street Journal takes a STAB at it

August 5th, 2009 | by Jason Alba |

How do you like that – I came up with a tre-clever title! Killer… stab… ah, I crack myself up :p

Seriously, let’s talk about the notion of a LinkedIn Killer.  On TechCrunch Michael Arrington writs about the WSJ Connect.  Interesting article, which talks about the first attempt the WSJ had in this space.  And now they are reviving their interest and doing it better and more seriously… you can read about it at Wall Street Journal Creating New “LinkedIn Killer” Called WSJ Connect.  The comments (in general) are revealing and very good.

What do I think about ANY LinkedIn Killer?  I think there are one of two things that could, might, maybe lead to a site/service that becomes the LinkedIn Killer.

First: Technology.

Having written the book on LinkedIn, I am asked regularly to check out someone’s site or idea that is “better than LinkedIn.”  LinkedIn was developed a long time ago.  Facebook came out around the same time but it had sexier, cooler, flashier technology.  Facebook has led the social space with a lot of things, including F8, FB Connect, etc.  It’s just freaking cool (however, the fine print in their ToS’s really negate all of the cool stuff they do, imho).

LinkedIn has been slow to adopt stuff.  Heck, they took forever before they allowed you to put a Profile Picture up!  They don’t have a real open API (they have a few partners who they let in with their API, as opposed to FB’s F8).

Their design hasn’t changed a whole lot (I think), and the site might look a little dated compared to the newer sites and technologies out there.

However, I completely discount that any site is going to out-technology LinkedIn.  They have built a critical mass and have the momentum that any wannabe-competitor is going to have a hard time trying to get close to, regardless of cooler technology.

TECHNOLOGY ALONE WILL NOT LEAD TO LINKEDIN’s DEMISE.

(unless LinkedIn does not keep up with certain technologies, and their own technology gets too outdated – which many complain of but I don’t think it’s been critical to LI’s site/health)

Second: Signups and Users.

This is the real issue, I think.  This is the reason why no new startup is going to catch up with LinkedIn – I mentioned “critical mass” earlier.  Another phrase that comes to mind is “first to market.”

Think about the difference between Amazon.com and BN.com.  Do you even know what/who BN.com is?  Perhaps.  Why the heck did Barnes and Noble sit around waiting for Amazon to prove themselves (and the Internet and ecommerce) before they did something about it.  By the time Amazon became powerful, BN had a TON of catching up to do.  And they are still doing the catchup.  Look at this graph from Compete.com (Amazon is the blue line, BN.com is the green line):

There are a handful of sites who have the type of user base that could even seriously think about wanting to be compete in the same arena as LinkedIn.  I *think* the WSJ is one of them – they have a very strong brand, they have readership, they are well-respected, etc.

The question is, can they actually get the people who go there to read the sage writing to actually do social networking stuff – even if it’s highly professional social networking?  Perhaps… but check out this comment from Amit Jain (Amit Jain on Twitter):

I just had a look at the new community launched by WSJ and I completely disagree that it can beat LinkedIn with its current design, flow & content. WSJ is trying to sell its products – news, blogs, videos, etc – more from it than enabling the business community interact. I tried to register on it and I was verified in 2 steps. Its too much work. Well, my point is that WSJ has still got to do much work to outbeat LinkedIn. The current version won’t work.

If the mindset of WSJ’s social networking play is the same as the WSJ monetazation play (“sell its products”) then I think it’s going to be an uphill battle.

I’d like to see this become a successful service, but I have a hard time believing that it will be a LinkedIn Killer … I should note that they are not the first big property that has tried to do this… but I bet you haven’t heard of the others.

Two final notes:

  1. If the WSJ is serious I seriuosly recommend they engage Scott Allen as a consultant in this space.  Perhaps even Shally (no-last-name-required) and Harry Joiner.
  2. Apparently they themselves called it the “LinkedIn Killer.”  Hm… that sounds interesting.  Hyping up the team internally?  They really drew a line in the sand with that one.
  1. 9 Responses to “The LinkedIn Killer: Wall Street Journal takes a STAB at it”

  2. By Steve Duncan on Aug 5, 2009 | Reply

    My response: http://www.swduncan.com/archives/2009/08/05/linkedin-killer-i-dont-think-so

    In general, I think social networking is peaking – if it hasn’t peaked already. WSJ starting a networking site is like GE launching a personal computer company in ’92.

  3. By Jason Alba on Aug 5, 2009 | Reply

    Alright Steve, help me out here – what do you think GE’s PC in ’92 would be? I really have no idea what they were doing, what the market looked like, etc. Are you saying they would have conquered the market, or that this is something they shouldn’t even try?

  4. By Kathy | Virtual Impax on Aug 5, 2009 | Reply

    I have to disagree. I think the WSJ Connect DEFINITELY has the “potential” to be a LinkedIn killer.

    The reasons include those you’ve outlined above. Linked In doesn’t seem to “get” what social media is all about.

    I mean, I found this blog post because I happened to get a silly message from a friend at Facebook. You and I are “connected” there – I saw that “status update” on my wall and “VIOLA” here I am commenting on your blog.

    On the other hand, the messages I get from LinkedIn are very cryptic and to be honest, not very enticing. Sure I have business contacts on Linked In – but I have those on Facebook as well – and Facebook finds ways to “pull” me in.

    LinkedIn makes me “work” – while Facebook lets me “play” and get some work done as well.

    If the WSJ Connect site can master that mix – oh what a LinkedIn killer it will be!

  5. By Jason Alba on Aug 5, 2009 | Reply

    There are a bunch of good comments on my FB page to this post – hopefully the owners bring them over here.

    One talks about how WSJ has a great audience… if you look at the site traffic they are neck and neck (kind of): http://siteanalytics.compete.com/wsj.com+linkedin.com/

  6. By Adelino de Almeida on Aug 5, 2009 | Reply

    Yes someone can pull it off and the answer may be… marketing. Get as many people as possible to join in, critical mass, as you say is, well, critical. LinkedIn has a great advantage over other sites: it offers the opportunity of being “passively” looking for a job without even looking like one is looking for a job.

  7. By Steve Tylock on Aug 13, 2009 | Reply

    Jason,

    I’m confident that an application can be built that is “better” than LinkedIn – but I don’t think that alone is enough to drain the life out of LinkedIn…

    My views on the topic:

    http://www.linkedinpersonaltrainer.com/archives/how-to-respond-to-linkedin-competitors-aka-wsj/

    Interesting on the “trying to sell their product aspect” – I didn’t pick up on that.

    That’s like saying “we’re going to outdo the competition, except our version will support us better than their version supports them” – doesn’t that cripple the effort to “outdo” the competition?-)

    steve

  8. By Allan Hoving on Aug 13, 2009 | Reply

    Hi, Jason, you’re still the best when it comes to explaining LinkedIn. I just wish LinkedIn would do as good a job of it as you do. In fact, that’s where WSJ Connect – or ExecuNet – or any other service could seize the advantage: educating users on HOW to leverage these powerful technology platforms. But you know this :-) Cheers!

  9. By Barbara on Aug 13, 2009 | Reply

    Hey, I agree w/Jason. ANYTHING is possible so long as you have the brand,marketing plan and $$’s. I believe social networking is here to stay. I would NOT be surprised to see LinkedIn have a competitor.

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