Thoughts about data silos and on Microsoft buying LinkedIn

“Don’t Post Anything You Wouldn’t Want Your Grandmother to See” is the title of a post from a year ago highlighting how user’s confusion about how their content is shared have led to misunderstandings. It’s also good advice on how to evaluate personal content before sharing on any social network. Its final piece of advice is: “once information is posted online to social media or the internet in general, more often than not it is made public for everyone to see and in most cases it can never be deleted.” This is good advice for when users don’t completely understand who the audience is for their posts, what metadata is included, and how those posts can be shared further.

Connecting the professional world, Microsoft Graph & LinkedIn Graph. Source: Microsoft

Connecting the professional world, Microsoft Graph & LinkedIn Graph.
Source: Microsoft & LinkedIn

Users lack of control of where their shared content ends up brings me to today’s announcement that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn. The announcement sparked many discussions on possible product synergies and where LinkedIn completes Microsoft’s product line.  Microsoft also gains the leading professional social graph, which is undoubtedly valuable. As part of the call to announce the acquisition, Microsoft presented this slide to show what kinds of personal data they could now link together. The data could be used to present information about coworkers or clients before a meeting but also showed how it could analyze users’ work projects and their schedule for, you guessed it, ad targeting.

All this led me to think about this “un-siloing” of data. In the header for the image above is the text“Today, all the information a professional needs to be successful lives in silos. By connecting the world’s leading professional cloud and the professional network, we can create more connected, intelligent and productive experiences.”

Yet this siloing makes a lot of sense for users. Some use Twitter for their professional conversations, some purely for personal ones, and yet others for activism. Some use Facebook professionally, some socially and some for sharing just within a small family circle. Users can be, and sometimes are, different aspects of themselves on the different networks. Merging the profile and behaviour does not necessarily take that into account.

When looked through the lens of Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn, the new connections are between a user’s personal and business data and their public professional profile. It’s a new relationship between data users have kept to themselves and the information they have shared publicly. Take, for example, the new link between email and LinkedIn. Will shopping habits be presented to recruiters? Or support of certain groups and nonprofits? What about a link to a personal calendar? Do travel plans matter? Does going to weekly AA meetings or cancer support groups? Yes, it’s true that Microsoft plans to connect business and not personal information but the end goal is to build a richer user profile to provide additional services.

There are many great product ideas that Microsoft suggested in its presentation that could streamline common business interactions, such as creating one, single professional profile across many platforms and services, or being presented with a more relevant newsfeed driven by professional interests and current projects. The key issue might end up being control. What information is shared across platforms, at what detail and whether Microsoft will cede that control to users. Users will need to consider how important keeping silos separate is to them in the future and what steps to take to ensure that separation even with unexpected M&As.

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