LinkedIn became the latest social site to open up its platform to let programmers write applications for the popular professional networking service.
LinkedIn, which boasts more than 17 million users, launched the Intelligent Application Platform and a redesigned home page Dec. 10, positioning itself for a new growth spurt.
The developer environment is a departure from open platforms from Facebook, Friendster and others. Applications based on those platforms are typically geared for entertainment between friends.
LinkedIn, based in Mountain View, Calif., is taking a tact more suited for professionals and has signed BusinessWeek as its first partner, allowing the news site to integrate with LinkedIn APIs.
The Intelligent Application platform is something of a digital revolving door, allowing users to import data from LinkedIn into an application and insert data from an application into LinkedIn.
Developers can use LinkedIn APIs and widgets to integrate LinkedIn into their applications by accessing information from a LinkedIn user's network, according to a blog post from Lucian Beebe, director of product management at LinkedIn.
So when someone authorizes an application to use their LinkedIn account, the programmer can use their profile, their network, other LinkedIn profiles and network updates to improve the networking capabilities of that application.
For the BusinessWeek relationship, users can see how many users they know at companies mentioned in BusinessWeek articles, creating a mini social network of sorts based on industry news.
Developers can also use the platform to write applications that run inside LinkedIn.com, thanks to LinkedIn's support for and ability to leverage the APIs in Google's OpenSocial platform.
Programmers can create an application that uses their own user interface and back end and is augmented with the LinkedIn APIs. These applications will display within LinkedIn.com and will be aware of the current LinkedIn users and their networks. The applications will ultimately run on user's home and profile pages.
For example, someone could create a conference application that sits in LinkedIn to keep people abreast of upcoming industry events, and enables users to discuss the conference.
Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang said in a blog post that the public can expect more business-valued applications to surface.
"I see this as a success as this becomes less of a part-time utility to more of a full-time business platform," Owyang said, listing shared calendaring, collaboration of office documents such as Open Office and Google Docs integration, presentation sharing and map mashups as possible apps going forward.
There is a caveat that marks the Intelligent Application Platform as a major differentiator from third-party development platforms from Facebook, MySpace and other social networks.
While Facebook users can create software that lets friends have electronic food fights, applications developed using LinkedIn's platform must be geared toward helping users improve business productivity.
"LinkedIn will remain focused on improving the productivity of people doing business and we'll work with people fitting that standard," Beebe said.
Programmers who want to build software with the Intelligent Application Platform must e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, explaining their plans.
In beta now, the new homepage will link users to relevant news articles about their company, industry and competitors, thanks to a company news feed ranked by relevance and popularity within their company network.
This feature is fairly collaborative, as users can also view articles that have been read the most by their colleagues over the last week or two, wrote Mario Sundar, LinkedIn community evangelist, in a blog post.
Professionals can also build a dashboard of their professional activities, including feeds for people, jobs and answers. This section doubles as the "online real estate," allowing users to add the applications created as part of the Intelligent Applications Platform.
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