The press loves a food fight, good vs. evil, Microsoft vs. Netscape (Netscape? Remember them?), Microsoft vs. Linux, Microsoft vs. Google. Okay, enough already. The one I'll talk about today is LinkedIn vs. Facebook.
For those of you that have been living under a rock and use neither, LinkedIn is a social networking site where people can post their online resumes and search for jobs or business connections. I have been a member for several years and have several hundred people whom I have met over my career. I have used LinkedIn for doing research on companies and finding sources to interview for stories or leads to new story ideas, as well as a place where I can collect references for previous work that I have done for my consulting clients. It is also a great place to keep track of people when they change jobs, or about to. (The recent CMP layoffs were presaged by a flurry of connect requests, for example.)
Facebook is a social networking site that formerly was the exclusive domain of college students, and seems like the successor for MySpace when kids want something more grown-up. Its scope has been expanded twice recently: first to allow members from the general population to join, and most recently with a series of REST interfaces that developers could build applications on. It is one of the quickest growing sites around – according to the WSJ, they have added three million users since this latest development. I was one of them and joined a few weeks ago and now have 100 or so "friends." One of my motivations for joining was to communicate with my daughter, who used the site to do research and figure out where she wanted to go to college this fall by joining several groups and messaging people that eventually formed a group of entering freshman in her particular dorm.
Both services have their own messaging system so you never have to leave the service and use your regular email identity and you can also get info about your correspondents by clicking on their picture. This seems less useful to me – but then I already do too much email anyway. I see my daughter using email less and less because she lives in Facebook and doesn't want to check her email box.
The Facebook open application ploy is a smart one, and there are now close to a 1,000 different applications that people have put together. As the Journal points out, a popular music sharing app called iLike gets more revenues from Facebook users than from its own home page. I am sure that there are others that will be moneymakers in the near future too. What is interesting about the applications is that you can see what your friend network is using and this way get a lead on the more interesting ones that you might want to fool around with.
Up until now, LinkedIn was its own closed universe. They offered several different plans from free to several hundred dollars per month to make use of their services. I know a few people who have coughed up the cash but most are satisfied with the free service. They have begun their own developer program too, at least according to Techcrunch, but I couldn't find any details on their site. The details on the Facebook API are easy to find and seem well thought out.
Facebook is easier to build networks, easier than LinkedIn to set up your own groups (see if you can find my group called frosh dads), and easier than LinkedIn to customize your own home page with a lot of silly applications. There is even a group for LinkedIn users, where I got a lot of useful information and links to write this column. [And there is a discussion thread on LinkedIn about Facebook here.] But more importantly, it seems the people on Facebook you ask to be your "friend" are choosier and have somewhat of a higher threshold than on LinkedIn. I took the easy way of bulk uploading about 200 of my Gmail contacts to get started on Facebook, and I should have been more selective: Several people messaged me basically saying who the heck are you and why should I want to be your friend. That brought me back to thoughts of junior high and I don't want to get into that period of my life, believe me.
One person that sent me a "who are you" request turned out to be someone that I exchanged emails with 12 years ago and haven't heard from since. At least, he kept better records than I did, but it was nice to reconnect.
With LinkedIn, I get all sorts of requests to be connected with people that I honestly don't know and don't think I ever met or corresponded with. I mean no offense if you are one of those. When you write a weekly newsletter, you the reader know a lot more about me than I about you. Depending on my mood, I have either accepted them or denied them, with no real rationale.
Granted, the two networks serve vastly different audiences and purposes: I don't have any incentive to hide my true identity on LinkedIn, indeed, I want to be as specific as possible about my credentials and professional affiliations, because you never know what work might come in as a result. That is the opposite on Facebook, where you don't want unknown stalkers coming by, and where you might want to have multiple identities (if you are a teenager or college student) to see how to take your "friends" to "friends with benefits" level.
Alex Iskold has done an excellent analysis back in January about the two sites, showing traffic stats and their different approaches to their networks and content:
A more recent post by Ed Sim on this blog talks about the different rationales and audiences and has some insightful comments by his readers.
I'd be interested in your comments about both services. You can either send me an email directly, post a comment on my Strominator.blog, or message me from within Facebook or LinkedIn. I'll tally all the replies and let you know across the board what happens.
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- David Strom
- David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.