linkedinlogo022708.pngLinkedIn, the site for professional contacts, has just launched a new homepage designed to make the site more navigable (the full redesign will roll out tomorrow). The company has been has been privately testing the new design since last December — we previewed many of the changes in detail then.

Suffice to say, it’s about time that LinkedIn got an upgrade. With this new design, the company has made a point of separating out information about you from information about the people you’re connected to. I found the old design a confusing mix of options for looking at different chunks of information from myself.

The main improvements include a way to see the articles that are related to the network that you’re in. So you’ll see news about the college (that you’ve told LinkedIn) you’ve gone to, for example.

There’s also a news feed, called “network updates” about what your LinkedIn connections are doing, that appears to provide more detail than the previous version.

Another significant move is the introduction of widgets — what LinkedIn prefers to call “modules” — some built by LinkedIn, some built by partners. One widget, for example, is a new version of LinkedIn Answers, the company’s service where people can ask and answer questions. In the beta test, the redesign led to double its previous usage.

linkedin redesign

Note: The company’s developer platform (our coverage), which lets developers build their own applications for LinkedIn, is only open to third parties that LinkedIn selects. It is currently a work in progress.

LinkedIn itself is growing fast. The company says it has grown to 20 million active users monthly, up from 17 million last fall. LinkedIn’s executives assert that they’ve now reached critical mass, where the “network effect” is kicking in. Increasingly, people see it as the place to go to network professionally (find a job, reach out to someone you don’t know through your network, etc), because most other people are also on the network.

This resonates with our own experience. While we were on LinkedIn years ago, most people weren’t, and it wasn’t that useful. These days, it’s surprising how many conversations between regular (non-geek) people you overhear mentioning they used LinkedIn to connect with this person or that person.

While the company was at one point pondering a proposed purchase by News Corp. (our coverage), it has clearly set itself on an ambitious and independent path. It sees its network as coming to dominate businesspeople’s online networking, just like a couple big, more general social networks have dominated for everybody else. Its redesign is just one of many new initiatives. Another we covered is its new research network, which mines its user data to pinpoint experts on niche topics (our coverage).

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