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4/8/2011
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LinkedIn Puts JavaScript API Into Production

Developers cheered and criticized the tools that let websites and business applications tap into the professional social network.

LinkedIn put its JavaScript application programming interface into production this week, making it easier to add the site's content and connections to other websites and Web applications.

LinkedIn had announced an early access version of the JavaScript libraries in October, but officially opened access to the production version with a blog post Wednesday. API documentation and tutorials are available at the LinkedIn Developers site, and LinkedIn also provided some basic plugins or widgets -- copy and paste snippets of code you can add to your website to incorporate a capsule profile or a recommendation button for a specific product.

The approach is similar to the Facebook social plugins, in that LinkedIn provides a Web form for entering parameters, such as the public Web address of the profile you want to display, and then generates a code snippet with the variables entered in the right spots.

The JavaScript API provides shortcuts for accessing many of the same functions provided by the LinkedIn REST API and returns data in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) format. If a JavaScript equivalent does not exist, developers can also make a call to the REST API from JavaScript and process the data they get back.

So far, the developer support forum is full of complaints from those who can't quite get the technology to work the way they want it to -- not necessarily an unusual state of affairs for any developer discussion board. However, one of the most active participants said in a LinkedIn message exchange that "the API is near useless given the lack of stability." This developer, Kevin LaRose of the Joomlapolis community website for users of the Joomla open source content management system, said the API has some interesting features for "offering business sites quick access to business information and profiles as well as easy connectivity directly from their site." However, he had experienced basic problems trying to get the user authentication method LinkedIn provides to work properly, he wrote.

Neither LinkedIn public relations staff nor Adam Nash, the vice president of product management who signed the blog announcing the release, responded to requests for comment.

If LaRose was frustrated, Carol Hagen of Hagen Business Systems in Chandler, Ariz., was quick to celebrate the announcement with a status update proclaiming "every B2B website needs to add LinkedIn elements." Hagen works primarily with construction firms, selling them software and also, lately, coaching them on social media strategy with a big emphasis on LinkedIn.

She said in an interview that the last time she looked at the preview versions of the JavaScript widgets, they were still a little too complicated for her limited technical skills, given that she is more of a salesperson and social media strategist than a techie. Still, she is enthusiastic about the potential for integrating LinkedIn on the Web and beyond.

"Every project management system that's out there has to be filled with your contacts, because that's how we exchange documentation," Hagen said, so it makes sense to use Web APIs to pull that information from LinkedIn as it becomes a more comprehensive master business card index. "I firmly believe LinkedIn is going to emerge as the only B2B social network, at least in the United States," Hagen said.

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