Saturday, June 18, 2016

Why LinkedIn Will Make You Hate Microsoft Word

IF Microsoft has its way, the vast membership of LinkedIn, the business networking site with more than 433 million members, will be instantly available to you while you use Microsoft products like Outlook or Skype. How many of LinkedIn’s members do you want to consult while also using Excel or typing away in Word? Microsoft is betting it’s a lot; this is part of its rationale for its $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, announced on Monday.
The companies’ chief executives, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn, explained their reasons for the deal in a PowerPoint presentation distributed to investors. In the center of a graphic titled, “A professional’s profile everywhere,” was a picture of an anonymous LinkedIn “professional” with arrows pointed outward to seven Microsoft products.
Outlook and Skype were two of these, and the usefulness of bringing in information from LinkedIn to those applications is pretty clear — you could put faces to the annoyingly persistent invitations from strangers on LinkedIn — if a little underwhelming.
But there were also arrows to Windows, to PowerPoint, to Excel and, most surprisingly, to Word. I’m not a Microsoft shareholder myself, but I am one of the 1.2 billion users of Microsoft Office, and I was baffled to see my workhorse word-processing software show up in the rationale for this deal.
 Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft, at a meeting with developers in March.  
Credit David Paul Morris/Bloomberg 

Mr. Nadella supplied one explanatory clue in an email that he sent to Microsoft employees. “This combination will make it possible for new experiences,” he wrote, such as “Office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help with a task you’re trying to complete.” He went on to predict that such experiences would “get more intelligent and delightful.”
“Delightful” is not the first adjective that comes to mind here, or even the 10th. If I’m working in Word, I can’t see why I’d welcome the intrusion of even a close friend, let alone a bot telling me about a stranger pulled from LinkedIn’s database.
My version of Word, a relatively recent one, is not that different from the original, born in software’s Pleistocene epoch. It isn’t networked to my friends, family and professional contacts, and that’s the point. Writing on Word may be the only time I spend on my computer in which I can keep the endless distractions in the networked world out of sight.
Did Mr. Nadella, who has been at Microsoft since 1992, learn nothing from the Clippy disaster? Clippy, the animated anthropomorphic paper clip introduced in 1996, popped up unbidden in Microsoft Office programs to offer advice. “Are you writing a letter?” it would ask annoyingly. Clippy became famous for the ire it provoked and, in 2010, Time magazine included Clippy in a roundup of the 50 worst inventions of all time, along with asbestos, leaded gasoline and pay toilets.
Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of “Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing,” said the move reflected a failure to understand what writers need. “Most of the most innovative writing tools now on the market position themselves precisely as distraction-free platforms,” he said.

But he also said that the idea of a LinkedIn-infused Microsoft Word was very much in keeping with the flawed “Office Everywhere” strategy of Mr. Nadella’s predecessors, Steven A. Ballmer and, before him, Bill Gates. One of the hallmarks of the Gates-Ballmer years was the too-high priority accorded to new products closely tied to Windows and Office. That strategy invited antitrust suits, and it also helped prevent the company from creating new businesses wholly independent of the two cash cows.
Until now, Mr. Nadella has actively eschewed that strategy and unwound many of his predecessors’ bad decisions. But I suspect that both Mr. Nadella and Mr. Weiner are afflicted with extremely bad cases of Facebook envy. Every tech company, including Microsoft, contemplated buying, or actually tried to buy, Facebook in its early days, and all are haunted by the thought of the deal that got away. Today, Facebook’s market capitalization is about $320 billion, not that far behind Microsoft’s $394 billion.
But if chief executives of the other tech companies can no longer buy Facebook, they can still borrow the language that its founder Mark Zuckerberg uses, especially his key phrase, the “social graph.”
In a joint conference call with Mr. Weiner on Monday, Mr. Nadella spoke of “social selling” and the “Microsoft graph,” the latter of which Mr. Weiner immediately renamed the “corporate graph.” That, in turn, is to be mated with LinkedIn’s “professional graph,” producing a new thing, “the world’s first economic graph.”
Microsoft’s and LinkedIn’s “graphs” will be connected, Mr. Nadella said, and “that’s when the magic starts to happen in terms of how digital work gets completed.” What Mr. Nadella fails to see is how extending LinkedIn’s “social fabric” to Word will kill the magic, not speed it up.

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