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October 24, 2013

LinkedIn Delivers Mobile LinkedIn Vision and New Mobile Experiences

Early yesterday afternoon the good folks at LinkedIn held a somewhat peculiar public event that focused on where LinkedIn is headed from a mobile perspective…and why. We like to think of LinkedIn as a fairly hip site with a pretty hip workforce – and in fact we know they are. However yesterday’s event was an oddball mix of trying very hard to justify why mobility is something LinkedIn needs to tackle, trying very hard to convince us that mobility is in fact an issue that needs to be dealt with, and providing us with an overview and announcement related to several updates and a new product launch LinkedIn is undertaking in response to the “need to deal with mobility.”

What was oddball about the entire thing is that LinkedIn spent far too much time telling us what we already have long known to be true about our now mobile-centric lives, trying too hard to convince us of this, and then more or less “filling in” the rest of the time after a good 35 to 40 minutes or so of unneeded mobility preamble on several updates and the release of a new email-focused tool.

In large part, we suppose that LinkedIn wanted to take advantage of some recent research it sponsored. The research in question primarily took the form of a LinkedIn Survey and follow up analysis that was conducted by Wakefield Research. The panel of respondents consisted of 1,000 nationally representative U.S. adults at least 18 years of age, and the survey itself was run between September 26th and October 4th 2013, using an email invitation and an online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the U.S. adult population, though a confidence level (we’re guessing 95 percent) was not noted.

Here is what the survey analysis concluded:

  • Breaking News: 72 percent of people in the U.S. watch or read the news via a mobile device;
  • Among Friends: 84 percent of people in the U.S., ages 18-34, read or view content on their mobile devices that has been recommended by their friends, peers or social networks;
  • On the Hunt: 53 percent of people in the U.S., ages 18-34, have searched for a new job or communicated with a potential employer on a mobile device while at work;
  • Staying Connected: 80 percent of people in the U.S. believe their mobile devices enable them to stay fully connected to their work and professional networks.

Well OK, but we really didn’t need to go through this – we already all know it is true. LinkedIn did present several interesting additional bits of information. Here is the first:

LinkedIn now has 238 million registered users. Among this already massive collection of the “working” population, the company has identified that these folks already connect with LinkedIn through mobile devices quite often. It is interesting to us that the United States is at only 38 percent for mobile access – though that number is up from only 8 percent in 2011. However LinkedIn anticipates that it will cross the bridge to 51 percent some time in 2014 – which makes it imperative for the company to deliver what it considers greatly improved mobile experiences.

The following image is intended to provide LinkedIn’s vision for what it needs to deliver on in order to move the needle of subscriber growth over time to capture a lofty one billion active global workers.

LinkedIn believes that it needs to devise “delightful” and highly useful mobile ways for its users – whether professional human resources, recruitment and employment professionals, or whether job seekers or enterprises looking to fill positions. These are the three core audience groups that LinkedIn caters to – and it will do so across the elements highlighted above.

Finally, LinkedIn shared the following:

This is an interesting breakdown of device usage. Tablet use gives way to laptop/desktop use during the course of the work day, while smartphone usage remains fairly constant. But note what happens after the work day is over. Laptop/desktop use drops substantially while at the same time tablet use spikes considerably as people retire from their work day. That tablet use is very interesting to LinkedIn, which reasons that this is probably a very effective time for users to hop on LinkedIn.

Clearly, the tablet is a much more suitable device for detailed LinkedIn use than a smartphone, and the numbers in the graph above suggest to LinkedIn that the company needs to ensure that it delivers a great tablet experience. Interestingly we can no doubt extend that to mean a great iPad experience and LinkedIn announced today that it has totally revamped its iPad app to deliver on this exactly.

New/Revised Mobile-centric LinkedIn Apps

LinkedIn also noted during the event that it has rewritten all of its apps in native code and has moved away from HTML5. The company says it has hard data to suggest that native code is a clearly better choice to build its mobile apps on, but we remain suspicious of this. Just maybe it is merely mimicking Facebook, which last year did exactly the same thing. In any case, we have not downloaded the new iOS app yet but we’ve read several reviews that are rather scathingly bad with their comments. Perhaps that native code got in the way – but we’ll know more after we test it ourselves.

The iPad app rewrite was one of the announcements LinkedIn made today relative to moving its mobile experiences forward. Second, the company announced a new version of Pulse, a news aggregation site that LinkedIn acquired that is similar to Flipboard and Zite. We have Pulse on our iDevices but we confess that with Flipboard and Zite having been installed a goodly amount of time ahead of Pulse we very rarely have the time to use it. We’ll leave it to regular users to comment on the refreshed interface, but we will endeavor to take a closer look as well.

Finally, LinkedIn spoke at length about its members essentially living within their email on a daily basis. So the company has been pondering just how exactly it might be able to deliver a “better” email experience for its users (or for that matter email users that may not yet know just how valuable LinkedIn can be). LinkedIn began thinking about this last year when it acquired a company called Rapportive, which was looking for ways to enhance the email experience. The Rapportive technology has now evolved into a new LinkedIn product dubbed LinkedIn Intro. The app is specifically built to be integrated with Apple’s email app (iOS Mail), and what it does is to immediately reach deep into LinkedIn’s databases to provide the user – directly inside of the Apple email app itself – all sorts of information about the sender.

This is interesting in and of itself, but the truth of the matter is that Apple does not provide any means to actually integrate such a capability into iOS Mail. LinkedIn Intro instead ends up intercepting your email messages (assuming of course you grant it permission to do so), and it then presents its own interface with the added LinkedIn details. Is this a good idea? Hmm, we’re not sure. We ourselves don’t believe that we really need “so much never ending” info on anyone, but others are likely to strongly disagree with that position. In any case, there are perhaps technical reasons why this may not be such a great idea.

We will defer on this front to Matthew Panzarino over at TechCrunch, who has pulled together a suitably in-depth technical overview of the process. Having done the analysis, Panzarino concludes that it is a bad idea. We may need to take a closer look at this as well (leaving us with three homework assignments if we counted correctly), but we can’t promise ourselves we’ll do all the homework.

In any case, regardless of the unneeded presentation of so much material to justify its new mobile focus, it is good to know that LinkedIn at least fully grasps that mobile is both critical and central to its future. Hopefully it will also gain more experience in delivering on it before that 38 percent of users crosses the bridge to a majority of LinkedIn users.

Edited by Ryan Sartor

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