I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. It doesn’t baffle me like it does Peter Bright of Ars Technica, though he does raise a good point: Microsoft’s track record with multibillion-dollar acquisitions is, well, terrible. But why would Microsoft want to own the world’s second uncoolest social network — the first, of course, being Google+ — when it’s effectively a glorified and unprofitable résumé hosting service?
On one level, of course, this world of aspirational business affiliation is nothing new. LinkedIn merely digitizes the core, and frequently cruel, paradox of networking events and conferences. You show up at such gatherings because you want to know more important people in your line of work — but the only people mingling are those who, like you, don’t seem to know anyone important. You just end up talking to the sad sacks you already know. From this crushing realization, the paradoxes multiply on up through the social food chain: those who are at the top of the field are at this event only to entice paying attendees, soak up the speaking fees, and slip out the back door after politely declining the modest swag bag. They’re not standing around on garish hotel ballroom carpet with a plastic cup of cheap chardonnay in one hand and a stack of business cards in the other.
This acquisition is exceedingly uninteresting, yet it makes total sense. The products from both LinkedIn and Microsoft are perfectly designed for middle-management types and those who aspire to be middle-management types. That market is dull. The products in that space are dull. It’s full of people working dull jobs that they really don’t want to talk about at a dinner party.
This sort of thing has now run all the way up the ladder. Microsoft and LinkedIn are associating themselves because they get to name-drop each other. LinkedIn is the name in corporate social networking; Microsoft is the name in corporate office software. LinkedIn is more legitimized now that they’re owned by Microsoft, while Microsoft gets a second successful social network — Xbox Live being its first. It’s a marriage made in, well, not heaven — probably in a ninth-floor boardroom.