Article originally published on LinkedIn, 14 June 2016
Caught Marketplace‘s story about the Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn on the car radio today, Of course I’d seen the news earlier in the day, but a couple of passages in this piece caught my attention (happily the text of the program is provided online):
[LinkedIn CEO Jeff] Weiner and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella say in their vision, every working person will have a LinkedIn profile, and employers all over the world can find who they want, when they want.
… and …
The vision is to hook up LinkedIn and its 433 million users with more than a billion users of Microsoft Office into a giant social network Microsoft can eventually monetize–creating new tools for employers, salespeople and hiring managers along the way.
Maybe they didn’t mean it to sound that way, but it sure seems like a one-way proposition. Or maybe they did, since “employers, salespeople and hiring managers” is where the money is (not meaning that judgmentally, but that’s the reality). And with big data, perhaps the focus of activity is inevitably top down?
It would be a real loss, however, if that is as far as the vision of such a large venture goes. The system could get really interesting, IMO, and potentially much more valuable, if there were a way to simultaneously flip the orientation so that the members or users (as data in the “giant social network” or objectified “who they want, when they want” ‘s) are also empowered with “new tools” beyond the usual job listing searches. For example searching the employer network for hiring patterns, salary ranges, employee job satisfaction, etc.? Data exists in all directions, after all.
What about that other half?
There certainly is more to it than massification of an existing professional/social network model for mutual benefit (apart from the structural & financial advantages of the acquisition for both Microsoft and LinkedIn). What else is going on with this deal that might benefit the membership/users of the expanded network?
This is Microsoft’s first major acquisition since Satya Nadella become CEO of Microsoft, coming just a few months after the company “outlined plans to put an array of chatbots, intelligent agents and digital assistants at the centre of its future technology, as the spread of artificial intelligence transforms the way people interact with the digital world.” Moreover Nadella sees LinkedIn as an “asset riding secular usage and technology trends” and the deal acquiring it as helping “reinvent productivity and business processes.” So on that level at least, one would expect that development of advanced technology applications would be central to the new relationship (even if the intent is to give LinkedIn’s operations “the hands-off treatment“), per “new tools for employers, salespeople and hiring managers.”
That’s still only the half of it. For the other, perhaps Microsoft’s focus on bots for various tasks (like ordering a pizza) is a starting point. Indeed, “one product Microsoft said LinkedIn will assist with is Cortana, its artificial intelligence-powered personal assistant.” But what roles would such personal assistant play in an environment where its user is data to larger entities? Would it be possible to task an intelligent agent to seek out information more broadly than just concluding specific purchases? Or keeping a tally of who has what information on one’s transactions?
Without any expertise in AI, one still could imagine that eventually there will be something that is sophisticated enough to advocate on behalf of a user, by drawing on wider data – perhaps able to negotiate a car price, or a starting salary? Such more complex scenarios would throw into relief a question of who(se interests) such bots or intelligent agents within a Microsoft/LinkedIn (or similar) network of the future would ultimately serve?
So basically the other ½(good thing) is there but as question mark.