Last Tuesday LinkedIn announced that it had closed a $53 million round of funding, led by Bain Capital Ventures, giving the company a $1 billion valuation. Yesterday I chatted with Allen Blue, LinkedIn's co-founder and vice president of product strategy, about its plans to grow the company's feature set, as well as its potential as a corporate intranet and my nitpicky concerns about its Company Groups beta.
Q. [Jennifer] What can you tell me about your plans now that you've received this funding?
A. [Allen] Our primary goal is figuring out how to provide the right mix of features for professionals for when they are doing their jobs every day. There are a ton of fantastic products we want to put in front of our users and we want to further invest in making LinkedIn a valuable daily tool. Some of that investment may turn into a partnership or a purchase, and a lot of it will go to helping us build up the resources that we've got.
Q. LinkedIn has been adamant about not adding any social elements comparable to its competitors. Any considerations for changing that at all?
A. LinkedIn has always been completely focused on the professional angle and we're going to remain so. When we refer to ourselves internally we call ourselves a productivity tool. It's vital to us that a professional is going t be able to walk into LinkedIn and do what they need in order to get their work done. In general we measure our success based on how well they do that and how successful it makes them. There are some social elements -- like the discussions in Answers.
Q. Are you at the very least considering a blog feed model similar to the other networks, for professional blogs?
A. Yes, we're hoping to provide that.
Q. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my concerns over Company Groups, regarding the lack of security and company control. I realize this feature is in beta. Can you tell me if you're addressing these concerns on the back end?
A. We have a beta program of about 1,000 companies and we're carefully examining the different use cases and what types of collaboration they want to do within these groups. We're also discussing how we can work with both companies and employees to make sure they can use the feature with confidence. We need to understand how to control the security, what kind of authentication is needed, and so on. We're completely committed to getting this right. In the end we want to make employees more successful and we want to put something in place that everyone can get value out of.
Q. Will companies be given some sort of control?
A. When we launched the beta we wanted to put something in place that was secure but also relies on some effort of the employees. If a person is flagged by another Company Group member, the person is immediately removed. We want to put the power of administrating the groups into the hands of the people who are using it, where each employee in the group has the power of an administrator (in their ability to flag content or members). Also, once the feature GAs, companies have the option to appoint an official moderator.
Q. I know from my own LinkedIn network that many are comfortable having an "online resume" but are wary of the concept of social networks. Do you think automatically adding people to Company Groups forces these types of users out of their comfort zone?
A. We know that some of the stuff we are doing isn't as interesting for some professionals. We're trying to build a system that allows people to use it how they want to use it. For the person who merely wants an online resume or address book, the design of the group doesn't compel or require any use from them. It's like a channel that they can turn off. The company group is there if you want to participate, but it's not glaringly there if you don't think you need it.
Q. To that end, will you allow a company that may have a policy against social networking to opt out of having a group?
A. We're discussing that, but every company in the beta has seen some feature or capability of the Company Group that they want to take advantage of. They especially like the roster of employees that the groups create and the additional information that is provided.
Q. Finally, Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang has said that LinkedIn, once it works out some integration and security issues, could become the standard for company intranets. Is this something LinkedIn wants to do?
A. We believe that every company has different needs in terms of their intranets. As we've been investigating we've found intranets of amazing quality with unbelievably robust capabilities, as well as intranets that are little more than a phone list and an LDAP. We've certainly been considering what kind of solution LinkedIn can possibly provide for this wide variety of needs. It might be possible for us to build something that looks like an intranet and there may be ways for us to integrate with intranets as they already exist. All of this is part of our evaluation process. We're looking at stuff we can bring to the table that only we can bring to the table. If we can make a valuable augmentation to existing intranets or make a solution itself then we will really have something to offer companies in that regard.
(Allen Blue photo provided by LinkedIn)