LinkedIn is one of our favorite subjects at Postlight—and this feels like an amazing opportunity for some uninformed speculation. Obviously we’re taking “LinkedIn will retain its brand, culture and independence” with a Redmond-sized grain of salt. So…what could happen now? (Note that “could” is emphatically not the same as “should.”)
1. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into Windows as a service.
This makes perfect sense: Think about how amazing Hotmail and Outlook could be if you could instantly write to anyone in your second-degree LinkedIn networks. Imagine how exciting it will be when you can beg your friends for an introduction to someone in their professional circles right from your email client with the push of a button. (This integration is the thing that could finally destroy email.)
2. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into Microsoft Office.
Office is about doing things, and people do things socially more often than they used to. LinkedIn is a business social network, and it probably knows more about your company than the people inside the company do. Imagine if you came to a section of your Microsoft Word document that needed, I don’t know—some sort of forecast, or a description of a forthcoming product. You could draw a little rectangle and automagically trigger a request to someone from the product team, asking them to fill in the rectangle. Workflows like this used to be the stuff of fantasy and billion-dollar “unified object model” sinkholes, but Git/GitHub has shown that they can work, and they can work decentralized, and LinkedIn has the messaging network and “InMail” system to pull this off, given a couple hundred million dollars. This could be kind of amazing—LinkedIn as the giant LDAP server for our enterprise embedded objects! Then again, when they “enhance” SharePoint with LinkedIn “workflow,” we might as well all give up and switch back to pen and paper.
3. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into other tools across the MSFT ecosystem as a “workplace” API.
LinkedIn knows a lot about what people do and Microsoft builds tools for doing lots of specific, difficult things (I.e. programming, project management, making diagrams, managing databases). If there was a single LinkedIn API that let you do things like: Look up people in your company; find relevant consultants; identify the skills needed to solve problems, etc.; that’s a kind of raw power that we don’t really see inside of most software. And MSFT has a lot of knowledge about giant ontologies and global taxonomies left over from the Bing and Cortana work. They have the knowledge necessary to make something that can train people to do very complex things—and find them help when they need it.
4. Microsoft could make a phone with LinkedIn.
What? No. What? Stop. The Facebook phone was a disaster (remember? I remember.) But there’s still probably some bizarre and monstrous Blackberry-esque WindowsLinkedPhone that could happen—something that jams all the messaging through LinkedIn accounts. It could even work with SharePoint. Can you imagine?
5. Microsoft could turn LinkedIn into the Windows-default publishing platform.
If you want to write a blog post or share some thoughts with Microsoft where do you even go in 2016? I have no idea. Yammer? Windows Live Server? XBox? LinkedIn, for its part, obviously believes that it should be the publisher of record for every horrible list of “inspirational strategies” and mutual ass-kissing glurge that content marketers exhaustedly produce for lazy Fortune 10,000 CIOs. Anyway, there’s a huge opportunity here—become the communications platform of record for the entire global business world! However this is an opportunity that both parties have a proven ability to squander over and over again. We’ll see!
6. Microsoft could mine LinkedIn’s data in order to inform product strategy.
This is the sort of mega-opportunity, and also highly sketchy. Microsoft is a software company, sure, but it’s also a bit of a nation-state with an enormously broad mandate. LinkedIn is an unbelievable data-mining platform; it has the ground truth about the global economy, especially around the technology industry, and it has a lock on that data. Microsoft will know what’s going on with Facebook before Zuckerberg does; it’ll know what skills are being added to Googlers’ resumes; it’ll know what kind of searches HR departments are doing across the world, and it can use that information to start marketing its own services to those companies. It can use LinkedIn as a global knowledge base to make more informed, long-term decisions about its own role in the global economy, and it can combine that information with what it learns from other platforms like Windows, Office 365, Bing, XBox, and so forth. It can answer questions like, “are employees of Google playing more XBox or less compared to last year?” It’s…terrifying. And we’ll never really know what’s going on. Which makes it kind of brilliant. But still terrifying.
7. Microsoft could use LinkedIn’s data to create new advertising products.
Given the above, Microsoft now has an absolutely amazing advertising platform. I can’t bring myself to write much about this because it will make Amazon chasing you around the web trying to sell you another toaster seem like a fun game played by little babies. I mean you’re talking about one company that knows how often you open Microsoft Excel per day, and another that knows how long you’ve been in your current position and if your boss just got promoted. And now they are one beautiful blue company. And the world’s largest advertising agencies and media buyers are just sitting there with their mouths open trying to figure out what to do now. I bet someone will tell them!
8. Microsoft could merge LinkedIn with Minecraft.
Just putting this here in case it ever happens and we’re all meeting inside of torchlit virtual rooms in the future asking to connect with each other before night comes and the monsters groan.
9. Microsoft could improve LinkedIn.
Microsoft is Microsoft and will always be Microsoft. But if you look at the recent design work in its applications, it’s capable of first-class, consumer-grade interface design and product thinking. I’d go so far as to say that much of its work is now better than Apple—Apple tells you over and over how great it is that they believe in design, and for consumer experiences, sure—but then you use XCode. Microsoft in 2016 is more likely to meet people where they live. Microsoft designs for people who have to do boring things with computers in order to make money. It’s the 9–5 software vendor. LinkedIn is the social network of 9–5, too. It’s also a tire fire of failed UX patterns; it looks like robot poop. That’ll be the part we see: When Microsoft slowly starts applying pressure, fixing the long-standing, painful bugs, improving the overall product experience, bringing everything up to code until LinkedIn looks like a fully modern, business-focussed social network. The part we won’t see, though, that’ll be amazing.
Paul Ford is a co-founder of Postlight.