I recently served as a judge for the Harvard College business plan competition elevator pitch contest, along with prof. Tom Eisenmann, fellow EC Jess Bloomgarden, and two others affiliated with Harvard. We were blown away at the number of pitches (at least 10%) which were effectively re-creations of LinkedIn. One student wanted to give her classmates the ability to upload resumes into a centralized “drop” area. Another student wanted to help connect classmate who had similar interests, and package those groups of students for employers. Yet another student idea was about building a standardized database of student skills (and affiliations) so that potential employers could easily find and sort candidates for contact. All of these functions are served, and served well, by LinkedIn. And within the HBS community, none of these ideas would have passed peer muster and made it to the pitch state. (These weren’t bad ideas — they served quite valuable functions. But the needs were already met by LinkedIn.)
It seems as if this is a clear example of the power of network effects, and the danger to adoption and risk of abandonment when network effects are potentially strong but un-realized. In the case of Harvard College, very few students were on LinkedIn to begin with, meaning there was little incentive for additional students to join. Because students weren’t familiar with the platform, employers [evidently] didn’t make much use of it for screening or messaging, and thus, its value for students was limited.
This led to quite an interesting conversation on twitter, involving an undergraduate, Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer, and Jess and myself.
An undergrad (hidden account) points out that LinkedIn is making special efforts with the community.