Open Source Intelligence: LinkedIn

The term "Open Source Intelligence" comes from the concept of using public (open) sources to gather information instead of clandestine sources. While it's common for governments and large companies to do this, small companies usually don't. It can be a time-consuming process and therefore not a good fit for a small company… unless you find a small set of highly accurate and relatively complete sources.

In the last 12 months, I've been working with a number of customers – and within CaseySoftware itself – on strategy, product planning, and related aspects. Each of these things requires knowing the state of the market, what's going on in a specific segment, and even knowing details about certain companies. Some of this information is publicly available via product roadmaps, press releases, and even the occassional website but all of this information is highly filtered and scrubbed by PR-types, lawyers, etc.


I've heard of companies calling their competitors acting as potential customers to gain pricing and sales information. I think this one is dirty.

I've heard of companies trying to "recruit" individuals at their competitors and instead mine their resume and them for information. I think this one is dirty. Unfortuantely, recruiters do this one too…

And then along comes LinkedIn.

Look around your network. If you're in the tech space (and you probably are if you're reading this blog), odds are you already have some of their people in your extended network. More importantly, they probably have most of their coworkers, bosses, reports, etc in their network.

Stop and look at these trimmed-down resumes. Each of them should describe:

  • recent projects and technologies;
  • the employment history;
  • who reports to who and who recommends who;

From these three aspects, you can discover a wealth of information:

  • First, yes, some people embellish on their resumes, but everyone wants to talk about their projects. With or without realizing it, they're often giving specific details about what they're doing with what technology.
  • Next, after a few years into your career, you are more likely to follow specific technologies or concepts as they cross market segments. You can see if a group of people have tended to move together from organization to organization or all left/joined an organization about the same time. This information will only get better if LinkedIn sticks around a few more years.
  • Next, the top people will develop a reputation and leave a trail in forums, etc that shows their involvement and quite often touches on the "how" of what they're doing.
  • Next, by looking at recommendations, you can determine some of the internal structure of the organization. You will know who reported to who and a rough organizational chart.
  • Finally, you can track who has left and when. Within LinkedIn, people generally leave recommendations for one another when they're looking for new jobs… moreso when the "looking for a new job" came suddenly and without warning.

I mention this because there are a pair of companies that I'm tracking closely. I have no involvement with either of them other than being a competitor in the same space. Over the past six months, I've identified the key staff of both organizations and occasionally check their profiles. In the last three months, one of them has lost half of their senior staff and a few junior staff. The other has hired some of those staff but has stayed relatively stable in terms of size.

What does your LinkedIn profile say about you? What does it say about your organization? More importantly, what does your organization say about your profile?

No, this still isn't an open call for random invites. Don't try to add me if you don't know me.