LinkedIn is commonly referred to as a social networking site aimed at professionals. The problem with that description is that, to put it bluntly, there ain't a lot of socializing going on at LinkedIn. Instead, the site might be best described as a glorified Rolodex in which business contact information is stored in a way that can be dynamically updated and subsequently aggregated so that each user's address book is always current, and users can get to see a snapshot of how they are connected to others.
While this core functionality is useful in itself, validated by LinkedIn's nearly 17 million members, I've long thought that the site's data was being seriously underutilized. For the most part, non-paying customers add all the value (through entering their contact data and making connections), while premium paying customers (recruiters) get most of the benefit, and LinkedIn profits. However, the "Answers" feature, which enables users to submit and answer questions limited to people within their own network or the wider LinkedIn community, shows how much more value can be extracted from the LinkedIn network to the benefit of all users. Additionally, if LinkedIn can persuade its users to spend more time on the site then it can move further away from a premium membership model, to one that relies more on advertising revenue driven by page views.
Yesterday LinkedIn made a number of announcements (and re-announcements) that signal it's finally moving in this direction -- with new or planned features designed to extract more value out of its network data and entice users to spend much more time on the site.