I don’t want to be LinkedIn with Microsoft

Microsoft buying LinkedIn makes good sense — for Microsoft. I’m not so sure about LinkedIn users.

I was one of LinkedIn’s first members, joining on June 27, 2003, when it was still in beta. Over the years, it has gotten me a lot of work and helped me write countless stories. But now that Microsoft is buying the company, I’m really wondering whether I should leave.

Microsoft is spending $26.2 billion, or about $59 per user, for LinkedIn. Even at that price, I think this is a smart move for Microsoft. LinkedIn, with only 443 million users, is no Facebook, but it’s been growing at about 20% annually for years. It’s also the de facto business social network. When you want to recruit new employees, find new clients or just interact with people about business, it’s the social network of choice. I have never seen a funny cat video on it.

And the news was great for LinkedIn. Within hours of the deal being announced, LinkedIn’s stock leaped by 61%. That’s remarkable for any company. For one that has been weak for years, it’s phenomenal.

One question, though, is whether that 20% growth can be maintained under the new ownership. If significant numbers of people share my negative reaction to this news and also consider opting out of LinkedIn, growth could stall.

True, some of my reasons for not rejoicing about the Microsoft takeover won’t resonate with everyone. I’ll talk about those first. But then there’s one very big consideration that I think could give a lot of people pause.

First, let’s remember that Microsoft bought another business social networking site, Yammer, four years ago, and that hasn’t exactly taken off.

One thing Microsoft did with Yammer was to integrate it with a lot of other Microsoft technologies: Office 365, Skype, Outlook, Dynamics CRM and Cortana. I think we can expect similar things to happen with LinkedIn. This doesn’t excite me because I am not a big user of Microsoft’s technology, and its integration efforts never seem to work well on Linux. Skype, for example, doesn’t so much run as limp on Linux, and Skype for Business doesn’t run on it at all.

But Microsoft probably doesn’t care too much about me and other Linux users. No, what it is interested in, it said, is connecting the “world’s leading professional cloud” to “the professional network.” It’s plausible that Microsoft sees LinkedIn as a conduit for it to get into HR software. And, if I were Salesforce, I’d be more than a little worried about Microsoft making a big move on customer relationship management.

To which I say: “Go for it.” I have no problem with Microsoft finding new ways to compete.

Ah, but I do have a problem with something else. I don’t trust Microsoft with my data.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction. I no longer think Microsoft is the “Evil Empire.” In fact, I think Microsoft is well on its way to becoming an open-source company. Also, while I don’t like how Microsoft is shoving Windows 10 down people’s throats, I actually like the latest version of the operating system. What’s more, I expect Microsoft to do a better job with security than LinkedIn did. Well, who couldn’t do better than that four-year-long security breach foul-up?

That said, I don’t want Microsoft to have full access to my business networking data. Privacy may be an old-fashioned idea these days, but at least with LinkedIn, I was sharing my information with a company that only did social networking. Microsoft wants to be the be-all and end-all of technology.

I’m not cool with this, and I’m not the only one.

Many people in technology fields simply don’t trust Microsoft. That’s especially true of people in Linux and open source. As Christine Hall of FOSSForce commented, “It’s touting an ‘Intelligent News Feed’ that will evidently be tailored to the user’s LinkedIn network, incorporating Cortana which will ‘know your entire professional network to connect dots on your behalf’ (how will that work for GNU/Linux users, I wonder).”

I know the answer to that one! It won’t.

What really bothers me the most, though, isn’t the lack of desktop Linux support. It’s the “know your entire professional network part.” I’d like to connect my own dots, thank you very much. Or, at least, use a system that’s dedicated to business networking rather than selling Microsoft services and products.

With a thousand-plus LinkedIn connections, I’m not eager to leave it — yet. But if LinkedIn becomes too enmeshed in Microsoft-specific services, I’ll start looking elsewhere. And I won’t be alone.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Computerworld (US)
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