Google's new CEO Larry Page is all about winning in social, tying every Googler's bonus to the success of the company's social strategy.
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And he's right: Google absolutely needs to win in social because social is driving an ever increasing share of online traffic, and traffic is power and money.
An obvious shortcut for Google to win social is buying other successful social companies.
The company that most often comes up as a potential target is Twitter, because it's the biggest Facebook rival and it's struggling to find a good business model, which means Google could be a long term home for it. But Twitter doesn't want to sell.
One that gets less talked about is LinkedIn, because LinkedIn is more "niche" (albeit a huge niche). But with yesterday's news that LinkedIn is becoming a traffic firehose with its new focus on content, we should note the big reason why LinkedIn would make a very valuable social property for Google.
LinkedIn has one thing that no one else except Facebook has: REAL IDENTITIES.
The focus on real identities is one of the biggest factors in Facebook's success. At the beginning, you could only sign up with a college, and then a work email, which made people sign up with their real identities. Today Facebook still enforces its only-real-names policy.
Real identities are why people go on Facebook all the time. It makes the site feel more trustworthy. It makes sure people have their real friends on there with real photos. Being an online identity repository and system is a huge competitive advantage for Facebook, and something it's doing effortlessly despite every big company trying and failing to get people to use their real identities online. Real identities are what makes social networks "stick" and be so valuable.
With LinkedIn, Google would instantly get a database of 100 million real and valuable identities, which it can then cross-pollinate with Google Profiles, its own ho-hum effort to get people to give it their own real identities.
LinkedIn can then evolve its focus slowly and progressively away from "merely" professional networking. The barrier between personal and professional identity online is getting blurrier and blurrier anyway. Services like Twitter and About.me are already hard at work obliterating that distinction. That would be bad for LinkedIn as a standalone company, but great for a Google-owned LinkedIn.
Sharing content is another big social network activity that LinkedIn is already shifting to, and combining Google's new sharing service +1 with LinkedIn would give it that instant boost. LinkedIn would stop being a resume database but become a sharing hub for information like Facebook and Twitter.
Integrating LinkedIn profiles and Gmail, like third-party tools like Rapportive already do, would also be a big boon: opening an email you would see not only a person's email and "name" but their real identity. Integrating LinkedIn and Gmail that way might cause privacy jitters (but again, some tools already do this using publicly available info and APIs) but it would improve Gmail and drive a huge new wave of signups to LinkedIn.
In time, LinkedIn could go from being a social network for execs, to a social network for people who have jobs, to a social network for everyone. That would be a real threat for Facebook.
If Google wants to buy LinkedIn, it had better do it soon rather than before it gets a huge IPO pop. So it's something to think about.
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