LinkedIn has created an application that lets users on the go tap into their professional network from any Web-enabled mobile device, especially Apple’s popular iPhone.
Released to open beta Feb. 25, LinkedIn Mobile will let the site’s over 19 million users access the service more easily from iPhones and other smart phones from Nokia, Research In Motion and Palm.
The application comes at a time when millions of users are looking to access their social and professional networks from any device at any time. Networks such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are keen to enable this because it will lead to greater opportunities to target mobile users with digital ads.
Users who want to try the application can point the browser on their mobile device to m.linkedin.com, said Brandon Duncan, director of engineering at LinkedIn.
The plan is to move the majority of the functions of LinkedIn’s PC version to LinkedIn Mobile, but Duncan said he and his team at LinkedIn carefully picked a few of those features for the beta.
Users will be able to upload photos from their mobile phones just as they would on LinkedIn’s PC service. This has value, Duncan told eWEEK, because it can help people who have never met find each other easily at professional events, such as trade shows.
LinkedIn users will also be able to invite new connections to their network from their gadgets. Previously, workers on the go had to snag a business card or an e-mail address, then go home to their PCs and establish a new connection from there.
Another feature is the ability to view certain network updates from a smart phone and act on them. For example, users who see a job posting they know would be a good fit for a colleague could forward the post just as if they were doing so from a desktop PC.
LinkedIn is growing, adding more than 1 million users per month. Moreover, mobile Web use is accelerating, due in no small part to the success of the iPhone. Hence, LinkedIn Mobile is optimized for the iPhone, something LinkedIn made a priority when it realized that about 2,000 people try to access the original site from their iPhones each day, the company said.
Such anecdotes blow holes in the theory that the iPhone is just a grand gadget for consumers.
Polished for the iPhone
“We know that Apple is going in that direction of trying to compete with [the] BlackBerry and others with the iPhone,” Duncan said, adding that optimized versions of LinkedIn Mobile for RIM’s BlackBerry and Palm’s Treo will follow.
To tailor the application for the iPhone, LinkedIn mimicked the look and feel of Apple’s smart phone, similar to the way certain Google Apps are polished for the iPhone. Also, LinkedIn does a lot of caching on the iPhone, so the device doesn’t have to call to LinkedIn’s servers as much, delivering a faster user experience.
Mobile Web use seems to be a common rule among LinkedIn users. Duncan said that in the last month some 100,000 users tried to access LinkedIn from mobile devices, but the experience is poor because cellular networks are not fast enough and it took too long for the page to load. LinkedIn Mobile is a lighter application and consumes less bandwidth.
With users flocking to sites to access their services from smart phones, why didn’t LinkedIn offer a version of its site tailored for mobile phones sooner? Facebook, MySpace and other social sites have had mobile versions for months.
Duncan said LinkedIn had a prototype of its mobile application a year ago, but business and technical considerations along with customer demand made now the right time to issue the software. “More and more of our users are asking for this capability,” he said.
Out of the gate, the application will be available in English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Chinese. Duncan said users in Europe and Asia use their mobile phones for several types of transactions, making a mobile version of LinkedIn valuable to users overseas. Also, roughly half of the people joining LinkedIn are from outside the United States.
There is no set expiration date for the LinkedIn Mobile beta. Further down the road, the company said, LinkedIn Mobile will grant users access to LinkedIn Answers and Experts and offer one-to-one messaging between users and their connections on LinkedIn.