Why Is Linkedin Still Around?

I like to joke that SF and Linkedin are in the business of testing the limits of geographical (IRL or online) agglomeration effect.

There is no doubt that linkedin is a useful network. If you have investment banking friends, you know how so many can be LinkedIn ninjas! As much as I like to rip on it for it being pretty useless to me personally, it does provide a lot of value to so many people. At the very least, it is a place you go to for checking out one’s resume. You don’t even have to use the feed or anything else to extract some value from it. Which is what I occasionally use it for.

The continued dominance of LinkedIn as the go-to online professional network has always been a greatly contentious topic in tech if we were to limit debates in tech to tech twitter. There is one school of thought that says that LinkedIn clearly has a very strong network effect based moat and the advantages that stem from that outweigh the downsides from product mediocrity, lack of substantial improvements and misaligned incentives (ie they empower spammers to spam more than the job seekers & professionals to advance in their careeers!) over the years. The essence of that line of thinking is that we use it because everyone that matters to tens of millions of people uses it. They admit that its not a great product but it works! Just look at Salesforce!

The other school of thought rejects the moat based perspective. They think that it’s strong place in the market stems froms its supposedly strong moat being used as a scare tactic to prevent well capitalized, credible competitive threats to emerge. I think we can all agree that Facebook is 10x better at execution and interactive development than Linkedin. But, we still have seen all sorts of social networks of varying sizes, age, & nature arguably thrive in the recent years. Snap, Twitter, Musically, Discord, Pinterest, NextDoor et al. So, what about Linkedin is so special if not lack of constant credible threats?

While both perspectives are reasonably believable, the fact that very knowledgeable, smart tech folks (whose job is to fund and built networks based products) are on each side of this debate teaches me one thing. This might sound obvious but it still needs to be said given how pervasive descriptive-masked-as-prescriptive-punditry is, these theories are not as predictive or strong as their respective advocates make them out to be. Clearly, neither side is obviously correct. As with most subjective matters, they could both be correct or both be wrong! At the same time!

If I had to choose a side in this debate, I would say I err on the side of second school of thought but with a caveat. I don’t think a “better LinkedIn” is the answer. Just like how a “better Facebook” has never been an answer so far. Facebook is getting unbundled into smaller, purposeful networks. And, I think that’s great because I believe a lot of issues it is facing today stem from an unprecedented number of people running around in the same online room. LinkedIn will mostly likely be the place we go to for checking out resumes for the foreseeable future. We are starting to see a new wave of attempts at building smaller professional networks. Girlboss and Handshake are the two recently publicized examples inching along in that direction.

I personally dislike LinkedIn as a product very much. I can’t believe how unchanged it is from years ago. Whatever changes they have made have mostly been disastrous. There’s just so many things about it that feel wrong or poorly done.