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LinkedIn Is Sharing Less With Developers

LinkedIn is keeping a closer eye on who's using its data.


LinkedIn is cutting back on the access it gives to third-party developers.

The professional network announced back in February that it was changing its developer program, essentially limiting the number of ways developers can use LinkedIn’s data and sharing capabilities. Those changes went into effect Tuesday, and there are a few notable areas that should impact apps already on the market.

The most significant section that has been updated is arguably LinkedIn’s Connections API, or the tool that lets people find and connect with their LinkedIn contacts on other apps. In other words, it provides access to LinkedIn’s social graph. This access was originally available to everyone, but now developers must submit an application in order to use it — and LinkedIn is being a little stingy.

LinkedIn follows in the time-honored tradition of building a platform with the help of third party developers only to choke off access when the platform company gets around to entering its partners’ businesses. It is especially common as companies get bigger and have more developers looking to piggyback off their data. Twitter has a reputation for changing the game on developers, which has fostered some distrust among those outside the company in the process. Facebook has made changes recently, too, limiting the information developers can gather from users typing in their login and password.

There’s a reason LinkedIn implemented these changes. Some developers were abusing the connections feature, using people’s LinkedIn contact list to spam others with info from their app. It’s also a defensive move for LinkedIn — one we saw Twitter use recently with livestreaming app Meerkat. By closing down its API, LinkedIn can keep apps that may pose a competitive threat from taking advantage of its network of user connections.

One such case is Caliber, an app we profiled in March that serves as a private messaging app for LinkedIn users. LinkedIn doesn’t offer a private messaging feature, only email-like messaging, so Caliber was theoretically filling a void.

Caliber CEO Andres Blank says his application to use LinkedIn’s Connections API was denied.

He says he isn’t upset — he plans to use people’s Gmail connections instead — but says it’s a warning for apps that rely too heavily on one platform. “I see this more as a cautionary tale,” he said. “Developers can still do a lot without LinkedIn.”

Entro, which used LinkedIn’s Messaging API to help people make introductions via LinkedIn’s InMail messaging service, is in a similar position. CEO Seth Gold said he had to completely rework his app after launching quietly in March; his application to use LinkedIn’s Messaging API was denied. He also plans to use Gmail contacts now, but says his new app won’t be ready until June.

“We had to completely change our strategy,” Gold explained. “It did mess up my plans a lot, but I’m an entrepreneur. Whose plans aren’t getting messed up?”

That doesn’t mean LinkedIn is shutting everybody out, but it’s clearly looking for something in return.

Weave, an app that works like Tinder by helping people find and connect with others in the same geographic region, was approved to use LinkedIn’s Connections API. The main reason? Weave is gathering some interesting data. For example, if engineers connect more with bankers or marketing folks.

It’s not sharing that info with LinkedIn — yet. CEO Brian Ma says he’d like to partner with the company down the road, and that’s one of the reasons LinkedIn approved his app.

“We’re trying to get them good preference data [about connections], and we’re trying to help them drive one of their key metrics which is helping people connect with each other,” he said. “There’s no formal relationship [yet], but that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

From a technical standpoint, Tuesday’s changes represent a hiccup for developers. The bigger picture is that LinkedIn is getting selective with who it wants to work with. It’s willing to share with developers, but only if they are willing to share back.

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