Via ZDNet comes word that LinkedIn plans to open up its platform to developers, seemingly in response to the recently launched Facebook platform. According to LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman, the site will enable third party apps in about nine months. That's quite a long gestation period in the world of Internet development, so this clearly sounds like a defensive counter to Facebook.
It's apparent that Facebook is positioning itself to become a social networking platform for the business community. LinkedIn has held that position to-date, but have not been able to leverage it to become part of their user's every day workflow. Only a third of their users login once per quarter, while 60% of Facebook users login at least once per day.
The new Facebook platform is generating many new applications. That's both a blessing and a curse, as it's incredibly difficult to assess what's worth installing and which of your friends have what apps. However, I expect a small ecosystem to emerge surrounding the Facebook platform. Third party tools will be developed which will organize, rate and manage the new Facebook apps. And, of course, there will be blogs to provide commentary, much as they do today for TypePad widgets.
In order to become relevant to business users, Facebook will also have to make minor UI modifications to become more businesslike. When defining a relationship between two business associates, you need to have better choices than "lived together", "took a course together" or "we hooked up". While "worked together" is a start, it's much too broad to define the many business relationships like "client-vendor", "biz dev partner" or others.
Yet those seem like modest changes to make, whereas LinkedIn will need to move beyond its current connections lookup functionality to get users to visit regularly. I wouldn't rule LinkedIn out yet, though. While I find myself turning more and more to Facebook, I still use LinkedIn for business critical functions like recruiting. I have many more contacts on LinkedIn and find it better for recruitment and biz dev. However, that gap could easily be closed in less than the nine months it will take before this new platform is launched.