This article compares LinkedIn and Orkut. These are websites that allow you to enter in people you know and then those people can enter in people they know which then lets you perform searches over your entire social 'network'. Orkut focuses primarily on personal relationships while LinkedIn focuses on business relationship. I prefer LinkedIn because it provides tools and features that are extremely useful to me both in hiring people and in putting myself in a better position to be hired if I should need a new job.
Long Winded Version: I recently was invited to join both LinkedIn and Orkut. In case you have missed all the news stories what these sites do is act as social network builders. The idea is that you put in people you know and those people get accounts and use them to put in people they know. This allows you to discover new people. For example, if you are looking for someone with a matching interest and you find such a person and then discover that while you don't know them you both share a friend in common then you can ask that friend to make an introduction.
Orkut focuses largely on personal relationships and I must admit that the idea behind Orkut doesn't work for me. Orkut is nicely put together but there is something wrong about putting up a list of all my personal friends. I can see the value of Orkut, especially in getting updates on changing e-mail addresses and phone numbers but do I really have to make the FBI's life that easy?
LinkedIn is much more focused, it is exclusively interested in business relationships. LinkedIn has a structured format that lets you enter in your resume. The structured format lets LinkedIn answer questions like "Show me all the people I'm linked to who currently work for company X and live in area Y." You can link your account to someone else's by sending them a request via e-mail to link. You can only send someone a request if you already know their e-mail address. In other words, LinkedIn doesn't want to become a spam farm where anyone can look up your account, see everyone you know and start sending those people e-mail.
Linking to people is the key to LinkedIn's functionality. Because, once you link to someone, when you perform a search, you get to search over all the people you are linked to and all the people the people you are linked to are linked to and all the people those people are linked to and so on. In fact LinkedIn supports searching up to 4 connections out. But, while you can see the person's name and description you cannot see their e-mail address. To get their e-mail you either have to look it up on the Internet or ask LinkedIn to make a 'connection'. A connection is a request you send to the person you know asking them to introduce you to the next person in the chain. This process repeats until you finally get to the person you want to be introduced to. LinkedIn's website will manage the connection process for you.
I think the 'connection' thing is hoaky, which worries me because this seems to be LinkedIn's idea of how to make a profit. They want to sell subscriptions that allow you to have many outstanding connection requests. If this revenue model fails that could mean LinkedIn will go away which would be unfortunate.
The reason I liked LinkedIn is that I do an awful job of maintaining my business social network. This causes me two problems:
- Hiring – When the company I work for has a position available I want to be able to help bring in the best quality person I can. But trying to remember who I know never seems to work out very well. Having an explicit list of people makes a huge difference.
- Being Hired – No job is forever and the time may come when I need to find a new job. Staring off in the distance trying to remember who I should talk to just isn't an effective strategy for me.
One could argue that I could solve both of my problems with a spreadsheet and there is a lot of truth in that. But the value LinkedIn offers over a local personal information manager (PIM) is that it updates itself. With LinkedIn I don't have to try and track every company that someone I know currently works for and I don't have to remember all the places they have worked for previously. Knowing where my friends work and have worked before is extremely useful both for hiring and for trying to be hired. In addition, when I add a new contact I can typically see that contact's list of contacts. This often reminds me of people I haven't thought about in a while and so prompts me to re-establish communications.
There is one version of LinkedIn's 'connection' idea that I do believe in, which is one link connections. That is, situations where I know someone who knows someone I want to know. I got the introductions that led to my last two jobs because I knew someone who knew somebody very senior in the target company. LinkedIn makes this kind of 'single link' connections much easier. For example, let's say I want to work for company X, I can perform a search for people in my network who work for company X, look at their profiles in order to find people who look interesting and then subset the list to people who are one link away from me. I can then call up the person we have in common and ask for an introduction. I also suspect I will use LinkedIn to get ideas for companies I should be interested in. That is, I will do a search through people I know and people they know to see what companies come up and then investigate them.
I think LinkedIn is a great idea and offers useful features, so I intend to get as much of my business network as I can LinkedIn.