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LinkedIn Opens Its Data Set to Third-Party Researchers

Researchers are using LinkedIn data to get insight into the economy and job market.

Asif Islam/ Shutterstock

LinkedIn sits on a lot of valuable data — where we work, what skills we have, where we went to school — and now it’s handing that information over to a few expert researchers in the hope they can do some good with it.

The professional network is opening up a “significant amount” of its data set to 11 different groups primarily made up of PhD students, professors and researchers. The groups were selected from a pool of hundreds as part of what LinkedIn is calling the Economic Graph Challenge; their teams will spend the next six months crunching the data — which will be anonymized — in hopes of drawing some conclusions about what it all means for the global economy and job market.

Each team has a different goal. One, from MIT, wants to measure the “economic health” of cities by looking at data associated with the people and companies that work there.

Another wants to look at the differences between how men and women promote themselves on their professional profiles. The goal is to “evaluate whether individuals with higher degrees of self-promotion receive greater job opportunities.”

LinkedIn is providing each team with a $25,000 grant, and each is supposed to publish the findings publicly in early 2016 (although LinkedIn ultimately gets final say over what’s published).

The challenge centers around what LinkedIn calls the economic graph, a buzz term CEO Jeff Weiner uses often to describe the connection of people to economic opportunities (like jobs and education). The Economic Graph is what LinkedIn is trying to build.

He described it to Re/code like this in November: “[Creating the Economic Graph] requires us having a profile for all three billion members of the global workforce, a profile for every company in the world, a digital representation for every job in the world, a digital representation for every skill required to obtain those jobs.”

The challenge is a nice mission, but LinkedIn has a lot to gain as well. The company owns intellectual property rights to whatever research the teams come up with. The findings may also lead to product ideas for the company.

“Some of the things that these teams develop will make it into some of our products,” explained Igor Perisic, an engineering VP at LinkedIn. “The hope is certainly to reproduce the Economic Graph Challenge on a regular basis.”

Another important element: LinkedIn says these groups will only have access to anonymized data. User names, emails, address book data and private messages are off the table, as well as anything else from your profile that you have marked as private, said Perisic.

Of course, most people share information publicly on LinkedIn. It’s hard to catch recruiters’ attention when they can’t see your profile, so the researchers should have lots to go on.

The teams were invited to LinkedIn’s Mountain View campus this week for orientation and to begin their research.

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