LinkedIn to launch answers product

LinkedIn logoIn a marketwatch story and online video interview, Keith Rabois of LinkedIn revealed that the business network is planning to launch a question/answer service similar to Yahoo! Answers, but directed at business intelligence. The service will take advantage of the identities LinkedIn users have taken time to construct, and utilize the existing social relationships as an incentive to get people to answer questions. From the interview with the head of business development:

Rabois: One of the things we’re doing is transcending the traditional value propositions of LinkedIn. Historically we’ve been focused a lot on hiring, recruiting, and finding new jobs and opportunities. We’re going to be using LinkedIn exploring new opportunities for people to conduct research, business research. One of the most important uses of a professional network is to get intelligence and get business information. For example, if one wanted to know what three changes are going to occur in patent law in the next five years, LinkedIn is a perfect tool to find that answer. Or, what venture capitalists are most appropriate for investing in a sports medical device. So we’re going to have a LinkedIn answers. You can sort of envision a useful version of Yahoo! Answers tied to people’s professional credentials and profile so you can assess the validity and credability of people’s answers.

Francisco: And how do you get the incentives? How do you provide incentives for people to actively participate in that?

Rabois: Principly social capital. It’s going to work within two degrees, and that means a friend of a friend. So if someone I know is asking a question and I know the possible answer, I’ll be willing to respond because I know the person in common. So I’ll earn some social capital as well as develop a professional set of expertise and reputational devices on our site that allow you to market yourself as an expert in a particular topic.

Answer sites have been coming out of the woodwork lately; after the overwhelming success of Naver and others in Asia, Yahoo! Answers opened a free, public question/answer site in America. Microsoft followed shortly afterward with Live Q&A and then Amazon with Askville. Each of these sites has a slightly different take on the incentives and social dynamics that make up the system, and each hoping to find the magic arrangement that creates high-quality content for its users. Of course the holy grail for these services is to achieve what Naver did, namely gaining the #1 search market share for search a year after launching their Q/A product.

LinkedIn presents an interesting player in this game, specifically because they have a substantial amount of information about their users, and because these profiles represent serious, professional concerns. Their opinion of Yahoo! Answers is obvious (“imagine a useful version of Yahoo! Answers…”), and they believe the users of LinkedIn will participate in something much more serious than the current competition. The interview does not mention when they plan to launch the system, but I would expect it to be soon if the head of BD is talking to MarketWatch.