It’s par for the course that major tech platforms will launch a lot of services, then sunset those that are less popular. But this week comes one that especially smarts (for me and some of my TechCrunch coworkers at least). LinkedIn has announced that on March 20, it will shut down Sales Navigator for Gmail, an extension that provided further information about the person you were emailing in Gmail, which was formerly known as Rapportive (which it picked up by way of an acquisition of a startup of the same name).
LinkedIn told TechCrunch that the reason was low usage.
“We continuously work with our customers and partners to focus on building and supporting the features that best help them build and maintain relationships with their buyers,” said Lindsey Edwards, LinkedIn’s product lead for LinkedIn Sales Solutions. “As a result of low adoption, we have decided to sunset the Sales Navigator for Gmail feature on March 18, 2020.”
The rise and fall of Sales Navigator for Gmail-née-Rapportive underscores a lot of what makes me sad, cynical and annoyed about how platforms ingest amazing startups, with all the prospects for growth that this entails, and then the service dies. In the case of this particular sunset, it also underscores how LinkedIn itself has changed.
A little history.
LinkedIn acquired Rapportive back in 2012 for a price reported to be in the region of $15 million — a song, really — part of a small acquisition spree aimed at improving how LinkedIn helped people manage their business contacts (others in the spree included Cardmunch and ConnectedHQ).
When it originally launched as a startup, Rapprtive provided a little bit of magic to Gmail users. When you had the extension activated, if you typed in an email address, a list of the person’s social accounts, information from their LinkedIn profiles and recent Tweets would come up in the margin. (Magic is the operative word here: the founder, Rahul Vohra, eventually left LinkedIn and many years later founded Superhuman, an email app with lots of extra features that aims to “make you feel like you have superpowers.”)
The idea was that you could use those bits of information to craft a richer email, for example if you were pitching something to the person in question, or trying to impress them for another reason.
Putting aside the fact that sometimes having access to too much information can be creepy, the idea was very clever in that way that simple things can be. In the backend, Rapportive was linking up and integrating all that information by way of the email address you’d just typed in, which meant that you could also use the extension for reverse engineering. If you were guessing at an email address, you could type it in and see if the person’s social profiles popped up.
If they did, you knew you were typing in an address that wouldn’t bounce. (This proved to be a huge thing for someone like me trying to quietly hunt down, for example, if someone had taken a job at a particular company, say if a startup she or he worked for had gotten stealthily acquired.)
After LinkedIn acquired Rapportive, it was business as usual for a while, with LinkedIn keeping the name and all its features intact.
But over time, that changed. LinkedIn itself went through a process of cutting off a lot of apps that tapped into its social graph, essentially building the walls around its garden a little higher to encourage more people to pay up for LinkedIn’s premium tiers, or at least visit an increasingly more limited version of the site as free users to bring it more traffic (and possibly get upsold to the premium tiers).
Eventually, LinkedIn also started to cut out Rapportive’s links to other social apps, focusing just on LinkedIn, and then, after Microsoft announced it would acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, its interest in standalone brands seemed to wane. LinkedIn dropped the Rapportive name and standalone product altogether, rolling it up with Sales Navigator, one of its premium tiers.
A free version of the product remained, but was regularly offline and generally quite buggy. At least one fan had hacked a way to keep using it in a less buggy way, but all in all, it’s really no surprise that a product that at one time did that magical thing you wish for in all of your tech — it “just worked” — which once reportedly had 65 million contact lookups per month (and probably, given more attention, would have grown with the growth of everything else on this internet of ours) eventually found itself with “low adoption.”
In each of the recent turns, I’ve tried to find useful replacements, and I hope I do find one eventually (I’m trying another one out today, ping me if you have suggestions too).
In the meantime, farewell to one of the most useful tools LinkedIn had under its belt.