On Monday, news emerged that Microsoft is purchasing LinkedIn, launching a thousand jokes about the company “adding Linkedin to its professional network.” But in essence, this was exactly what Microsoft was doing—emphasis on the “professional.”
No need to hire Justin Long and John Hodgeman to explain what’s happening here. Since long before the “I’m a Mac/PC” advertisements tried to illustrate the differences between Apple machines and those powered by Microsoft’s Windows, people already got it. PCs were de rigueur for the business set and Macs for education and creativity.
By acquiring the most popular “professional” social network and its subsidiaries such as Lynda, a learning platform, Microsoft is doubling down on its business bona fides, which have remained strong thanks to Outlook and Office365. Microsoft also purchased Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 million in cash and Skype the year before.
Increasingly, Microsoft has felt more B2B. Specifically, Microsoft has its sights on a certain avenue with its acquisition, according to CEO Satya Nadella: Boosting the strength of its virtual personal assistant, “Cortana.”
Not everyone can afford an actual human personal assistant, and Microsoft looks to make a digital version more viable by connecting LinkedIn data with Cortana, giving the assistant the ability to communicate more relevant information—like a personal assistant.
Unlike some platforms that allow for third-party integration or partnerships that use open API—this is what happens when you connect two services like Spotify and Facebook, for example—LinkedIn has guarded its data far more closely, keeping this sort of integration from happening. LinkedIn has only integrated with Salesforce and Microsoft, but in a far more limited capacity than integrating LinkedIn with your Office calendar.
LinkedIn’s lack of integration with other services has given it a bit of a Twitter complex, with some 433 million registered users, but only a few active ones. According to LinkedIn’s numbers, only a quarter of its users sign in every month—and once a month does not a power-user make. Twitter has a similar problem. But unlike Twitter, engagement may not be much of an issue, and Microsoft sure doesn’t think it is. If LinkedIn is, for the most part, for people looking for employment, why would someone sign in if they weren’t looking for a job? Is it actually a failure when two people meet on a dating app, fall in love, and stop using it. No.
Microsoft’s vision for LinkedIn as an element of Cortana is not inline with the classic LinkedIn use case—the company wants to elevate the network’s utility to a daily level and make it essential, so it’s not like a dating app. Imagine this scenario: You’re going to a meeting and your robot assistant tells you it’s time to leave now because the destination is 4.5 miles away. You are also told that you have met this person twice before, and when. And maybe you’re told where they went to college and the acquaintance you have in common. Essentially, you get the whole dossier, condensed and edited by machine learning.
Depending on who you are, Microsoft’s possession of not only your entire resume but your professional contacts, in addition to your schedule, co-workers, accounts, and so much more may sound invasive or very useful. Regardless, it’s something Microsoft is betting on. According to PCWorld, the company has two flowcharts that represent the points of contact with a user on both Microsoft-branded and LinkedIn-branded properties.
Merging them may have a $26.1 billion price tag, but it is clearly a huge web of useful information. And for big tech companies today, data is money.