LinkedIn adds Outlook toolbar

LinkedIn has a new Outlook toolbar. Since almost every Outlook add-in I’ve ever used has crashed my system, with the notable exception of Cloudmark’s outstanding SpamNet, I was more than a little hesitant to use it. But since I’m teaching a teleclass on LinkedIn April 28th, I figured I’d better go ahead and give it a shot.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised. First and foremost, one of the things that LinkedIn does consistently well (take heed, all you other social networking sites) is tell you exactly what it’s going to do before it does it:

No contacts are uploaded to LinkedIn in the background at any time. When you choose to upload contacts to LinkedIn, only you have access to your contacts. LinkedIn will not automatically invite them to join or send them any other mail.

As you may have heard by now, Zero Degrees created a bit of a fiasco for themselves last week on this very issue, making it far too easy to invite your entire contact list into their site. I saw at least three invitations on Yahoo Groups, and Stowe Boyd even spammed his own blog accidentally.

But LinkedIn worked considerably differently. LinkedIn doesn’t even upload the contacts to their server when it finds them—it just puts them in a separate folder for you in Outlook, where you can deal with them at your convenience, and how you choose to. Once it’s done the auto-discovery, you can then selectively upload the contacts into LinkedIn. Also, you can upload without inviting. Why would you want to do that? To easily check and see which of your contacts are already on LinkedIn.

Now, it’s not very smart about who is and isn’t a contact. It tried to make all the Yahoo Groups I regularly participate in as contacts, as well as every webmaster@…, support@…, info@…, etc. It auto-discovered almost 3,000 contacts, several hundred of which weren’t real people.

As such, I do not recommend contacting everyone it auto-discovers! The most effective use of it is to go ahead and upload all the contacts it discovers, then once on LinkedIn, limit your view to only those that are already LinkedIn members, and send connection invitations just to them (or just to those who you actually know). It would be more elegant if it did all this in Outlook rather than on LinkedIn, but I found it very effective, and I did identify about 50 good connections who were already on LinkedIn who I hadn’t connected with there.

Bottom line: It didn’t crash my system. It did exactly what I expected it to do based on what it told me. It could be better, but in general, it’s well-executed, and I recommend it to all LinkedIn users.