LinkedIn, an Internet social network for professionals, will open up its service on Monday to outside software developers, starting with BusinessWeek magazine, to transform itself from an online contacts and referral database into an indispensable daily tool for business users.
The Mountain View, Calif., company faces stiff competition from the much larger Facebook, which has attracted a zealous base of users from college students and teens to corporate professionals seeking to connect with their business networks.
The company, which was the fastest-growing social network in October, has attracted about 17 million registered users globally and about 5 million unique visitors in the United States in October.
It now aims to court developers through its Intelligent Applications platform program.
The program will let outside developers create software for LinkedIn as well as embed features of LinkedIn, such as finding your business contacts, directly from partner Web sites.
LinkedIn also is participating in Google's OpenSocial developer network that seeks to create a way for all developers to write software that will work on all platforms. MySpace is also a member of OpenSocial.
Unlike rivals, which have created similar programs to court the Web's vast community of software writers, developers and applications for LinkedIn will need approval by LinkedIn before they are deployed, executives said.
The partnership with McGraw-Hill Co's BusinessWeek will link keywords, such as company names, to the LinkedIn service. Visitors to the BusinessWeek site, who place their mouse pointers over certain keywords will trigger a pop-up box detailing how many of their LinkedIn contacts are related to the company or keyword.
A demonstration of this feature made it easy to see why rumors surfaced last month over News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch's interest in buying the service, which a source told Reuters last week was simply not true. The two are in discussions for partnership opportunities, the source said earlier.
Accent on efficiency
"What we are trying to do is make professionals more productive by making them able to find one another, learn more about each other and communicate efficiently with each other," LinkedIn Chief Executive Dan Nye said in an interview. "It's not a place where you waste two hours of your time trying to find a date."
Nye declined comment on the rumors and said, "We believe we're building a company that's changing the world. We are very excited about doing it independently."
The launch is part of a broad plan to revamp the service to fend off larger rivals such as Facebook.
To do so, LinkedIn will also borrow popular ideas such as Facebook's "News Feeds" that will spell out the daily activities of their contacts as well as drag in relevant news stories from 10,000 publishers and blogs, the company said.
One analyst said LinkedIn's approach to developers would likely help assure quality control to the types of applications that would appeal to niches of users within the network.
That's in contrast to Facebook, whose thousands of developers since it threw open its doors to outside program writers earlier this year have flooded the service with software that spans the gamut from useful communications tools to silly time wasters, such as giving users the ability to throw software farm animals at each other.
"I do think this platform will be a success," Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang said.
But Owyang said LinkedIn's bid to make its homepage a daily stop for business users faces challenges.
"People still think of it as a network utility and they're trying to be a daily information portal."