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Get Creative with LinkedIn’s API

One of the most obvious differences between LinkedIn and its social media rivals, Facebook and Twitter, is its reach. It’s not easy these days to wander onto a Web page that doesn’t invite you to send a link to your Twitter followers or share the page with your Facebook friends. LinkedIn buttons? Not so much.

That might seem surprising. LinkedIn is popular both with users, who now number more than 100 million worldwide, and with investors. (The company’s stock finished up 109 percent on its first day of trading recently, the fifth-largest opening rise since the bursting of the dotcom bubble.) But it also has a lot to do with LinkedIn’s own slowness to make easy site integration available.

That, at least, is now changing. The relaunch of the site’s developer platform with an open set of APIs and the adoption of OAuth has now made integrating LinkedIn easier than ever for developers. “In Share” buttons are now beginning to appear on Web pages, competing for space and clicks with Facebook’s Like and Twitter’s Tweet. (You can see one in action at the top of this page on a blog about recruitment).

LinkedIn Beats Facebook on Mashable

Mashable has been one site quick to make use of the buttons. The tech blog places a Facebook Like button next to its articles, as well as icons for Twitter, StumbleUpon, Tumblr and, on some pages, LinkedIn. A quick look at the frequency with which those buttons are used shows that pages typically pick up more Tweets than LinkedIn Shares, and more Shares than Likes. This post about Groupon, for example, had picked up 1,209 tweets eleven hours after it went up, compared to 55 Likes and 210 LinkedIn Shares. This post about marketing on Facebook, however, generated 256 Shares in less than half an hour, which might suggest that users like to show potential employers that they’re up to date with social media marketing techniques.

The site’s use of LinkedIn though isn’t limited to sharing buttons. Mashable has also integrated LinkedIn with Mashable Follow, its “social sharing and content curation platform,” a move only made possible by LinkedIn’s recent adoption of OAuth.

“We are able to authenticate users using our existing OAuth support framework,” Chris Heald, Follow’s lead developer told readers. “Once users are authenticated, we can use their authorization tokens to make calls to the LinkedIn API to easily conduct the shares.”

Mashable though isn’t the only site to make use of LinkedIn’s new openness. Other sites are lining up to do the same, and in various ways. Behance, a portfolio platform for creative professionals, declares that having uploaded their work, members can “at the touch of a button” broadcast their work on Facebook and Twitter, “as well as sync with LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn Sells Expertise by the Minute

Elegant.ly is also aimed at creatives, this time focusing on new designers. The service hopes to match starting designers with new start-up companies in a kind of pauper’s marriage. It uses LinkedIn’s OAuth integration to enable new members to sign in without having to complete pages of registration forms.

Both of those sites though only make use of LinkedIn’s smart new API to help the networking service do what it’s supposed to do more efficiently. LinkedIn’s main role has always been to help people find work; both Behance and Elegant.ly make job-seeking a little easier by focusing on one niche industry and making the information available on the site readily accessible to people who might be looking to hire professionals in those industries.

MinuteBox is a little more creative. This service also mines LinkedIn’s database to bring professional help to people who need it, but it offers not skills but knowledge. That’s a fairly unique approach and an interesting twist on the usual way in which professionals market themselves. Instead of pitching for full-time or freelance jobs, MinuteBox allows LinkedIn’s members to offer professional advice for which they can charge on a minute-by-minute basis. The information is delivered through video, audio or text chat and the interaction conducted through MinuteBox but the trust is built through an impressive portfolio on LinkedIn.

Move away from LinkedIn’s main function as a way for people with skills and knowledge to sell their expertise, and things start to get a little murkier, even with LinkedIn’s new API. SociallyApp is a smartphone app that tries to integrate a phone’s functions with all of the information streaming through multiple social networks. Those networks include Facebook and Twitter, of course, but also draw on Foursquare and LinkedIn. The app collates the data, adding the latest Facebook picture to contact lists, for example, or placing birthdays on calendars.

But it’s not easy to see what the benefits might be for users of LinkedIn, beyond adding loose connections to a contact list and forcing the phone user to scroll through more names than he’d like before he can call home.

The challenge for LinkedIn — and for developers hoping to make use of its API — is that the site is not the kind of news streaming service that has made Facebook and Twitter so valuable. (The former for news about friends and family; the latter for updates and chat from industry insiders.) It’s too formal for casual browsing and the reasons for networking on the site are too obviously commercial for the kinds of loose chat that can make even Twitter so much fun. While Facebook is like chatting with friends and Twitter is hanging out at the watercooler, LinkedIn still feels like the kind of professional networking occasion at which everyone wears name tags and tries not to eat with mouth full of canapés.

None of that is to say that LinkedIn isn’t useful. It clearly is as its 100 million users and happy investors will tell you. It’s a valuable service that can help match the career-minded to new opportunities and businesses to talented individuals. Whether it can compete with the flexibility of Twitter and Facebook, even with its new API, remains to be seen.

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