LinkedIn experiments with a "find friends" feature

Steven Loeb · July 22, 2014 · Short URL:

LinkedIn would likely add the feature to its Connected app, allowing users to find contacts nearby

(Updated with insight from Kevin Stephens)

The idea of finding friends nearby has always struck me as a little... creepy. Like, I get the idea behind it, and I can see how it would be cool to see that someone you know is a block away. But, at the same time, it means that you're always on, and always have to be ready to "on." Maybe you just want to talk a walk, and not really be bothered by anyone.

At least when Facebook added such a feature, it was understandable because, presumably, many of those people are your friends. But LinkedIn? That one I just can't see. How many of the people that you're connected with do you actually want to spend time with. 

And yet, LinkedIn is experimenting with such a feature. It was first revealed to Venturebeat by LinkedIn designers Mauroof Ahmed and Moses Ting on Tuesday, and then confirmed to VatorNews.

The idea is to expand LinkedIn's Connected app, which currently sends out updates and professional alerts, such as anniversaries. The app would also send out location alerts, to tell users if one of their contacts is nearby. 

Here is how Ahmed described it to Venturebeat:

"If you were connected with me, and I knew you were in Zimbabwe, I would know that and that would be kind of cool. That’s like a quick way for me to send you a message and say “hey, what’s your view right now? What do you see when you look out the window?” he said.

"And that’s something that both builds our relationship and at the same time it’s something very timely because we know where you are. And that’s something we want to optimize for, and sort of really strengthen individual relationships at a deeper level than going for breadth."

Another use that the designers see is people at conferences, who they want to meet and talk to, to find each other.

Krista Canfield, a LinkedIn spokesperson, confirmed to VatorNews that the site is experimenting with such a feature, but declined to answer our question as to what the ultimate goal of such a feature would be.

"We're always looking into new ways to improve our mobile experience, and location based signals are one of many features we're exploring," she told me. 

If LinkedIn does eventually launch a find friends feature, it might not be as easy for them as they think, said Kevin Stephens, co-founder and CEO of Blink, which was recently acquired by Yahoo. Blink's first product was Kismet, an app that specialized in helping people find connections nearby.

In fact, he believes that LinkedIn should go a different route entirely.

"Introducing people by location is an interesting problem that carries a lot of challenges. Solving this for a business use case requires mitigating the Lion and Zebra problem: the lion wants to meet the zebra, but the zebra doesn't want to meet the lion," he said.

"The other approach, which many of LinkedIn's users would find more value in, is helping people who are already connected maintain a warmer connection. Given the substantial amount of data LinkedIn has, they're in a very strong position to solve this particular use case. It'll be interesting to see their approach."

One thing that creating such a fearure would potentially do for LinkedIn is increase user engagement, something that the site has struggled with in the pads and has been spending the last year or two trying to improve, mainly by trying to being a publishing platform.

That process started with the introduction of "influencers," or people who users could follow, getting their status updates and original posts, in 2012. Originally consisting of only a few important figures, such as Barack Obama, Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson, Mitt Romney and Reid Hoffman, The program was recently expanded to include everyone on LinkedIn.

The company also recently acquired Newsle to help push out that original content. In addition, LinkedIn has also created new profile pages and created the aforementioned Connected App.

Whether or not giving people the ability to find their work friends nearby will get them to use the site more remains to be seen.

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Kismet connects you to your existing friends in the real world by simplifying getting together face to face. We show you which of your friends are nearby or alert you when the app isn't open, then make it simple to invite them to meet you.

When you're planning to get together with a group of any size, Kismet makes the experience simpler and more social. Users can invite their friends whether or not they are Kismet users. Non-users can easily reply from the web or their phone without having to install the app.

No longer do you need to send hundreds of text messages or try to follow long email threads just to meet for Happy Hour. Users are also notified automatically when other users arrive and depart the event, meaning you’ll never have to ask “Are you here yet?” 

Kismet was one of the most talked about companies of SXSW 2012, in the hot "ambient location" and "social discovery" space. Founded in 2011, Kismet was part of AngelPad's Winter 2011 class of startups, and has been lauded as one of the most privacy and user conscious apps in the space.



Kevin Stephens

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Co-founder and CEO of Blink, previously an early engineer at Google and YouTube. Also worked at Apple & Boxee. BS Computer Science, UCSD.