LinkedIn revamps contacts feature to boost relationship management

LinkedIn has revamped the contacts management feature of its professional networking website and packaged the functionality into a new iOS application.

The company will begin on Thursday a limited trial of the new LinkedIn Contacts with handpicked U.S. users. The technology behind the upgrade came from a startup company called Connected that LinkedIn acquired in 2011.

The new LinkedIn Contacts has been designed to aggregate information from a broader variety of sources than is possible today.

In addition, it was built to have "personal assistant" qualities, such as the ability to trigger reminders and suggestions, and to also be simple and entertaining to use.

"We're trying to change the game," said Sachin Rekhi, product lead for LinkedIn Contacts, during a press conference.

LinkedIn Contacts can grab contact data not just from LinkedIn but also from a variety of third-party email services, address books and calendars, including those in Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook and iPhone, according to Rekhi. It can also get contacts data from applications like CardMunch, Evernote and TripIt.

However, it doesn't access data from Facebook or Twitter at this point, nor has it been designed to tap into enterprise applications like CRM software and ERP suites, he said, adding that the focus is on helping individuals manage their professional connections.

After LinkedIn users give their consent for the system to mine various email accounts and other sources of contacts data, LinkedIn Contacts consolidates the information and merges duplicated contacts into single entries. It creates contact entries for all people a user has corresponded with via email even if a formal contact entry was never created before. Rekhi said the system has an algorithm designed to detect email sources that aren't people and thus shouldn't be considered contacts. Users can also manually add, change and delete entries created automatically by LinkedIn Contacts.

The contacts profiles it creates contain not only basic information about the people, but also a log of past email interactions and of meetings. Users can append notes to their contact entries as well.

It's possible to filter and sort the contacts list in a variety of ways, including by the last time the user communicated with people on the list, and by the most recently added people. An option called "lost touch" lists people with whom the user hasn't interacted in a long time based on email conversations and meetings logged in calendars.

LinkedIn Contacts also alerts users about contacts having birthdays or getting new jobs, and through its integration with TripIt it highlights people who reside in a city that users are going to visit.

The company plans to also come out with an Android application for LinkedIn Contacts, as well as with a version optimized for mobile browsers.

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