June 14, 2016

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Machine learning, bots and AI - The real reasons behind Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn

Microsoft just shelled out $26 billion on LinkedIn which is around 3 times more than it paid for each of its previous two large acquisitions, Skype and Nokia.

On the surface, LinkedIn looks like a good fit for Microsoft who excels (pun intended) in business-oriented software and services. With its more than 430 million users worldwide, LinkedIn is the preferred social network for professionals and it could become a great platform for Microsoft to promote its products. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The robots are coming

Currently, all major tech companies are falling over themselves to get in on the next disrupter wave in Silicon Valley; artificial intelligence, machine learning and automated bots. Apps and mobile are no longer the next big thing but are considered baseline offerings for all the big players.

And herein lies the real reason for Microsoft's big interest in LinkedIn.

The enormous amount of data accumulated in LinkedIn's databases is the perfect base for building the world's first practically useful bot for business users. Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google Now are all mainly consumer-focused AI and there's a substantial void in the professional space waiting to be filled by a serious contender. And Microsoft has just made a huge play for this slot.

The new Clippy?

Nostalgic Office users will recall the Office personal assistant Clippy which was abandoned more than a decade ago - but with Microsoft's access to LinkedIn's data, we predict a strong comeback for a similar albeit vastly expanded function in future Microsoft products.

We're all being checked out on LinkedIn before meetings, after sales calls and when applying for jobs. And we're actively using LinkedIn to look up information about people we are doing business with. With LinkedIn's imminent tighter integration with Microsoft products, this behaviour is likely to change in a big way.

Consider the following scenario:

Users will no longer have to always look up information on LinkedIn manually. For instance, if you're writing an email to someone, Outlook will pull information straight from LinkedIn to generate context for you and assist you with the task at hand. You will be presented with a list of shared connections and skills you have in common. But that's just the basics.

Outlook/Office will actively monitor what you're writing about and, based on LinkedIn's data, provide you with pseudo-intelligent assistance. You could be writing a job application and you'd be presented with relevant information from the corporation's LinkedIn company page or the latest posts from the CEO's activity feed. Or you could be reminded of someone in your network that already works at the company. In true Clippy-style, you could also be advised not to apply for a specific job if the bot finds the average employment period for staff at the company to be very short.

LinkedIn profiles just became even more important

Privacy concerns aside, there's great potential in combining tools (Office, Windows, mobile phones) with data (LinkedIn). LinkedIn profiles will be used in a much wider context and all that juicy LinkedIn data could be put to good use across Microsoft's product suite.

At MSI we're excited about these prospects and they confirm our belief in LinkedIn as the single most important social media platform for the business community.



Photo credit: Microsoft

Thomas Sondergaard
Thomas Sondergaard