What is LinkedIn? Not a stupid question

I’ve heard this question from two different highly successful partners at big law firms in the last month. What is LinkedIn?

Isn’t it obvious? It’s a collection of professionals networked using a common website where they generate profiles that others can see and share.

“So it is basically a site to collect all of your contacts?” One partner quizzed me further.

“Yes, it IS that,” I responded, “but it’s more than that.”

For members of my generation, the tail end of Gen X into Gen Y, online networked communities are not hard to understand. We grew up around them, so we get instinctively that when people are connected with technology and they all create and share information about themselves and about their expertise—there are some specific measurable benefits, but there are far more unexpected positive externalities.

Think back to 30 years ago, if you wanted to get into software development and didn’t live in Silicon Valley you had almost no chance of bumping into someone that you could collaborate with to build the next big software product. Geography kept a lot of very smart people from collaborating. Now Geography is more of an inconvenience, but no longer a hindrance. Brilliant minds can connect and collaborate together from all across the world with the help of social media. This is just one example, but I can’t begin to guess all of the other positive externalities that occur when people share their connections on a site like LinkedIn.

“So, it’s to help people find employees or to hire people?” The partner asked.

Yeah, it can be used for that too, but it can also be used to share content, build consensus, share ideas, and generate new teams that couldn’t exist before.

Social media didn’t explode in popularity because it is trendy, but because it is so incredibly useful. What is LinkedIn? It is a collective brain that allows our society to experience productive gains we couldn’t have imagined ten years ago. This isn’t obvious, especially not to an older generation that are used to products having only one or two intended uses. So be patient with the baby boomers, we need their knowledge and contacts more now than ever.

What is LinkedIn? No explanation I could provide would be complete.


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  1. […] does require you giving something up. Two weeks ago I wrote about this at greater length on my post What is LinkedIn? LinkedIn survives because of the positive network effects. It isn’t anything that LinkedIn […]

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