Sunday, June 19, 2016

You Can Never Hide From Your Boss

When the news broke on Monday that Microsoft had purchased LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, most people likely read or heard about it on their way to work, checking their phones or sitting in front of a laptop with their morning coffee. It’s likely, too, that many were keeping up with emails at the same time, maybe getting a head start on a spreadsheet, or perhaps dipping into Slack or Yammer to see what coworkers were talking about. Work, of course, no longer happens only at work.

But if the acquisition itself produced a slew of jokes—most of them about how uniting the creator of Clippy and the purveyor of nagging emails might create the world’s most annoying organization—the implications of the move were bound up in exactly how and where people work today. After all, Microsoft didn’t purchase LinkedIn because it wants to get in on the job recruitment business. Rather, it wants to create the social connective tissue for the office, hoping to do to work life what Facebook did to our socializing: creating a persistent network in which to share, collaborate, perform—and, of course, to be tracked. If one consequence of Facebook was FOMO, a fear of missing out, then a “Facebook for work” may encourage something more like FONW: a fear of not working.

Large acquisitions are often disasters—witness Microsoft’s own $7.6 billion mistake in buying Nokia in 2014. But they can also augur the tech industry’s future. That same year, when Facebook bought WhatsApp for $22 billion, some questioned spending so much for a free app used for chatting with friends and family. Now, because apps occupy so much of people’s attention, messaging is becoming a platform unto itself—a way to not just communicate, but also to send people money, read the news, or order a ride. Facebook saw that messaging was the next wave of mobile computing, and so swallowed up a potential competitor with hundreds of millions of users around the world.

Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn is a similar herald. The acquisition was made for a variety of reasons, not least because, unlike Facebook, LinkedIn tracks both employment and skills—information that can be used to analyze everything from industry-wide trends to where a company is surreptitiously moving resources. Noted tech analyst Ben Thompson called it “the most valuable data in the world.” But more generally Microsoft is in search of a “social graph” for work—a base layer of connection that not only links a worker into all of a company’s applications, but also follows that worker around wherever they go. Microsoft wants to offer its enterprise clients the solution for connecting its entire workplace for the digital era.

The imagined scenarios are admittedly intriguing: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella envisions being able to call up a coworker from within an Office document in order to bring their specific skills to a project, or have LinkedIn’s news feed serve you articles related to the work you are currently doing. Meanwhile, programmer and New Republic contributing editor Paul Ford sees an array of possible changes, from replacing email with a persistent messaging service, or turning LinkedIn into an internal way to share ideas, or simply having a company directory based on skills rather than an alphabetical list of names.

In short, the primary change envisioned is that instead of LinkedIn being where you look for another job, it becomes the way to centralize activity in the job you have now, becoming your professional identity technically as much as practically.

by Navneet Alang, TNR |  Read more:
Image: Shutterstock