When a giant brand leaves a hole, what happens next?

By Richard Nieva , written on November 26, 2012

From The News Desk

Today, LinkedIn shut down its events application, which used to let users highlight conferences and networking events, and was particularly useful in marketing business to business events. In its wake, a few smaller apps have been clamoring to fill the void; Lanyrd, clever and opportunistic, launched a new LinkedIn integration with its event directory app to coincide with the shutdown.

But as these smaller companies vie for the space that LinkedIn has left wide open, it presents an interesting question: As good as these little guys' products might be, does it matter? LinkedIn has bowed out of the events game for now (though only partly -- the company was quick to point out users can still share events on their company pages), but when they do get around to fixing their event features, will they just be able to swiftly move in again, and undercut the progress their smaller competitors have made?

The company has indicated that they are at work on an events experience that will be better than the one they just discontinued. "We aim to ensure LinkedIn members have the best possible experience across each of our products and services, and will continue to look into new ways to help our members discover and manage events and opportunities that relate to their professional interests," said a LinkedIn spokesperson. That's probably true, despite the corporate PR, boilerplate feel of the statement.

There are a number of reasons why LinkedIn may have discontinued the app. Perhaps adoption numbers were low, or maybe focus groups told the company they didn't like the user experience. (LinkedIn didn't address my request to talk to an employee, but instead provided the statement.)

Still, it doesn't change the fact that, at least for the time being, there is a hole in the company's service where some users found genuine utility. Dave Lutz, a common player in the event industry and marketing director of Akron, Ohio-based Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, called the shutdown "stupid." "It held a tremendous amount of potential," he said. He said he had RSVPed to about 30 events over the last few years and found the most value in seeing quickly seeing who else was going to certain events.

He also said he doesn't quite buy that LinkedIn is hard at work on a new events feature. "If they were going to make a bunch of improvements, it seems like they would let it limp along," he said. "To announce that they would shut it down, the likelihood they'll address it anytime soon is seems low."

For their part, the smaller event apps are putting a lot into the fight. Presdo Match lets a user compare his or her existing connections with people already going to events. Lanyrd has other features around featured speakers and discovery tools for other events. Asked about LinkedIn's eventual full return to the space, Lanyrd CEO Simon Willison said, "I'd be very surprised if they emulated what we have to as high a degree."

But what about another giant stepping in? True, Facebook has been making gains as a professional network, but people are still wary of listing and responding to professional events on that social network. "I don't think people are still comfortable using Facebook as a business forum. Sure, there are privacy settings, but people are still scared that others can see every photo from a drunk night out," said Sarah O'Donnell, a writer for the trade blog Conference News.

We've seen this kind of thing before. When Apple released its Maps app, and users got out their pitchforks, CEO Tim Cook issued an apology and suggested other services, like Mapquest or the smaller Waze. Though their adoption numbers spiked during the Maps outcry, Apple has improved Maps in the meantime through updates, and adoption for services like Waze has come down to earth. Waze downloads skyrocketed about 80% the day after Cook's announcement, but since then have slowly tapered off, the company said.

[Image credit: onecog2many at Flickr]