This evening, TechCrunch had the scoop on a secret project at the venerable Wall Street Journal, a project that Michael Arrington reports is referred to within the team building it as a “LinkedIn killer”. While I don’t have any inside information on the project, I do have an opinion on whether it will be just that…
Before offering my opinion, I must say that I admire the Wall Street Journal in many ways. When I had my “born-again-capitalist epiphany” 20 years ago in the days after the Berlin Wall came down, one of my first acts of transformation from Bohemian to entrepreneur was to purchase a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Over the years, I came to rely on the WSJ as a consistently reliable source of hard-hitting journalism on business and matters of great import. A drop-dead seriously great publication.
I also admire the creativity and ambition implied by Michael Arrington’s piece, and sincerely hope that his post is true. Indeed, it is time for the Wall Street Journal (and all other newspapers) to address, head-on, the existential threat that the Internet represents to the entire industry of news delivery. As loyal readers will recall, I’ve been on record that the death of newspapers is accelerating.
That said, I don’t think LinkedIn is vulnerable to any new business network starting up, whether incubated at a newspaper on in-the-wild. LinkedIn is one of what I think of as one of the “three horsemen of the Social Web,” networks that are fundamentally about real identity and real relationships, specifically Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxo (where I am employed, as many of you know).
Why? Because the Social Web is entering its explosive growth phase. Facebook, the clear leader of the pack, now has over 250 million active users, with highest growth rates in the seriously post-college over-30 crowd. But LinkedIn and Plaxo are also growing rapidly, as we are watching something very similar to the birth of the Web some 15 years ago. Rather than stealing share from each other, the leaders in providing a “people layer” for the Internet are riding on massive wave that “grows the pie”.
Plaxo just recently rolled out a few features that Eric Eldon of VentureBeat says moves us deeper into business networking. And just this evening, we announced revamped Plaxo profiles to make them more professional, more dynamic, and for those who want a public profile, “truly public” (not just a teaser to sign up for or sign into Plaxo).
After we did, someone tweeted to ask if we were moving to compete directly with LinkedIn. I thought it was an interesting question. Again, it was the kind of zero-sum thinking that I do not think applies to the explosive growth we’re seeing as the Web goes social.
If LinkedIn has any threat right now, it is one of fundamental model or strategy. Not only is the Web going social, but the Social Web is going open and interoperable. Just as Plaxo and Facebook have figured out how to do amazing things for their mutual members, so must LinkedIn embrace interoperability with Plaxo, wth Facebook, and with the other people-powered apps of the Web — including whatever it is that the Wall Street Journal may be working on.
Update: the story is also being covered by Seeking Alpha