So, yesterday I was talking about the Business2.0 article that claimed LinkedIn was MySpace for grown-ups, with the emphasis on disputing that claim. LinkedIn is not MySpace, I argue, because it doesn't let you do anything (much) and it doesn't create the same obsessive, constant use (Gareth Stack) that MySpace (etc) does.
Some of you agreed strongly either in comments or on your own blogs (thanks Umair, Mathew), some disagreed just as strongly. Today I'd like to talk about the extent to which LinkedIn is MySpace for grown-ups (and not just because I'm scared that the ex-PayPal mafia runs LinkedIn - the ex-PayPal mafia assures me my Flickr stream should remain free of digitised horses heads for the time being).
You've heard me say before that the great success stories of the digital media revolution have been about the persistent digital identity. As I've commented before, the first wave of the digital revolution was about the killer ap - email - and the scale went to the providers of that communication platform, Yahoo! and AOL and Hotmail (which Microsoft grievously wasted, but then MSN has never even got as far as being a media company, yet alone made the requisite next step). The second has been about another sort of persistent digital identity, for the generation of digital natives who abandoned email and took up social networks as their communications/identity platform of choice. This is because, quoth Cory Doctorow (and this is currently my very favourite quotation about digital media):
"Content isn't king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you'd choose your friends - if you chose the movies, we'd call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about."
MySpace has scaled for lots of reasons, but one of them is that it fulfilled a need in its users for a persistent digital identity, the same need that was once filled by an email address they never changed, and before that a telephone number and perhaps before that a postal address.
Now, the blog format is failing to satisfy that need for more people than it satisfies. Forrester research (sub req'd) tells us that 5% of the (UK) online population have set up a blog and kept it; 6% have set up a blog and abandoned it. Something about the blog format isn't cutting it for most people: perhaps the tyranny of the constant update, perhaps the GUI, perhaps the other users. But what we can learn from this is that people are looking for some sort of permanent online presence (much as they were when Yahoo! picked up GeoCities, another great idea squandered) and not finding it.
Enter LinkedIn (and, as various people have pointed out, eCademy and SoFlow). The MySpace visual anarchy and peer group suits some people - let's face it, suits kids - but an active MySpace page is more an embarrassment at interview (hence, indeed, ReputationDefender and Garlik and the like - nice ideas that I don't have time to do justice to here). LinkedIn (etc) fills the adult need for a persistent digital identity - a permanent but, crucially, passive CV - without the downsides of ever-blaring music and a peer-group of drunken adolescents.
Umair points out that the scaleable solution in this space will be more customisable - messier - than LinkedIn. Indeed. Currently, LinkedIn is at the wrong extreme of a spectrum that goes from virtual autocracy to virtual anarchy. For LinkedIn to become the next MySpace, it fundamentally has to let go. But it is filling a very real need in the digital economy, and has some (though not all, and not all the crucial ones) of the elements of a MySpace for grown-ups.
That said, SoFlow and eCademy have more. For LinkedIn to scale and leverage its considerable first-mover userbase advantage, it has to let go really, really soon.