One of the questions I’m most frequently asked these days is what the future holds for LinkedIn. The answer depends greatly on the time horizon.
Over the next few years, you’ll continue to see us innovate across our core value propositions for members in the areas of professional identity (e.g. the LinkedIn Profile, Search, and Contacts); professional insights (e.g. the Home Page, Slideshare, LinkedIn Today, Groups and Influencers), and ensuring we work wherever our members work — everywhere (e.g. mobile and API development).
However, if you start to extend our timetable out to a decade or more, the scope of the answer shifts materially.
Our ultimate dream is to develop the world’s first economic graph. In other words, we want to digitally map the global economy, identifying the connections between people, jobs, skills, companies, and professional knowledge — and spot in real-time the trends pointing to economic opportunities. It’s a big vision, but we believe we’re in a unique position to make it happen.
Before getting into the specifics, I wanted to first provide a bit of historical context.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg popularized the concept of the social graph to describe his approach to mapping the world’s social relationships, in the process unlocking untold value for people by digitizing their social networks.
Reid Hoffman and the other founders of LinkedIn initially created a platform to help people tap the value of their professional networks, and developed an infrastructure that could map those relationships up to three degrees. In doing so, they provided the foundation for what would eventually become the world’s largest professional graph.
Our current long-term vision at LinkedIn is to extend this professional graph into an economic graph by digitally manifesting every economic opportunity in the world (full-time and temporary); the skills required to obtain those opportunities; the profiles for every company in the world offering those opportunities; the professional profiles for every one of the roughly 3.3 billion people in the global workforce; and subsequently overlay the professional knowledge of those individuals and companies onto the graph.
Once realized, we then want to get out of the way and allow all of the nodes on this network to connect seamlessly by removing as much friction as possible and allowing all forms of capital, e.g. working capital, intellectual capital, and human capital, to flow to where it can best be leveraged. In doing so, we believe we’ll be able to help lift the global economy.
Imagine the possibilities.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal wrote about the fact that the city of Fort Wayne, Ind. has many jobs available, but over 14,000 people are still looking for work. The problem is one faced by a growing number of cities in the U.S. and around the world: There is a widening skills gap where the existing workforce has been educated and trained to obtain the jobs of yesterday and not the jobs of today and tomorrow.
With the existence of an economic graph, we could look at where the jobs are in any given locality, identify the fastest growing jobs in that area, the skills required to obtain those jobs, the skills of the existing aggregate workforce there, and then quantify the size of the gap. Even more importantly, we could then provide a feed of that data to local vocational training facilities, junior colleges, etc. so they could develop a just-in-time curriculum that provides local job seekers the skills they need to obtain the jobs that are and will be, and not just the jobs that once were.
Separately, we could provide current college students the ability to see the career paths of all of their school’s alumni by company, geography, and functional role. These students, among the hardest hit by current macro-economic conditions, would then be in a position to reach out to former graduates to learn more about how they developed their careers, identify mentors, and help get their foot in the door of companies providing future opportunities. Realize, this isn’t science fiction, it already exists. Perhaps even more exciting, since this functionality is being developed as an extensible platform, the same approach could be applied beyond universities to all vocational segments and industries, e.g. returning veterans, welders in Detroit, and the existing and former employees of every company in the world.
Despite the truly world class talent we’ve assembled at LinkedIn, no one company could ever realize every conceivable application that an economic graph of this scope would generate. In success, we would look forward to the day when developers, data scientists, and forward thinking economists could conduct research that was previously implausible at this scale. Combined with our own internal efforts, together we could subsequently unlock unprecedented insight into the world’s collective understanding on how to move the needle of the global economy.
At LinkedIn, we draw a clear distinction between vision and mission, where the former represents our collective dream and inspiration while the latter is a measurable, realizable overarching objective. Developing the economic graph is a vision. That said, with over 187 million members (growing at roughly two per second), 2.8 million active company profiles, 1 million professionally oriented groups, and a wide array of other valuable assets in place and still to come, this is one dream we’re working hard towards making a reality.