NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters) - LinkedIn on Monday unveiled a mobile version of its professional social network in six languages, aiming to boost growth in foreign markets by making it easier for people to add new contacts.
It is offering the free mobile service in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish, with the hope of encouraging millions of people to use LinkedIn on wireless gadgets instead of, or as well as, on their desktop.
“We’re fully expecting hundreds of thousands or even millions of people will take advantage of this application,” Brandon Duncan, director of engineering for privately held LinkedIn, said in a telephone interview.
With about 19 million members, LinkedIn is much smaller than high-profile sites such as Facebook, which has about 65 million users, and MySpace, which has 110 million users.
These sites already offer mobile services. But while Facebook and News Corp’s NWSa.N MySpace court consumers by offering everything from gaming to photo albums, LinkedIn focuses mainly on professional networks.
The mobile beta site, m.linkedin.com, has features that do not require much typing but could help people use a chance meeting to better advantage.
It promises to make it easier for users to invite new contacts without having to turn on their PCs, to quickly find out more about people they meet on the go, and to easily check member photographs to set up spontaneous meetings.
The new languages could also boost usage of the service which gains about half of its 1 million new members a month in countries outside of the United States, according to Duncan.
“We’ve tried to identify the core features that would resonate with a user,” said Duncan.
There are already signs of demand for mobile LinkedIn, with several thousand people per day using the full Internet browser on Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) iPhone to access the main Web site, according to Duncan, who said the company had also developed a specific mobile features for iPhone users.
About 100,000 people have used their cell phone to log onto LinkedIn in the last month, the executive said.
Duncan hopes that a specially designed Web site for the small screens and tiny keyboards on most cell phones would attract much more usage.
But given that only about 13 percent of U.S. consumers browse the Web on their phones once a month or more, Yankee Group analyst Jill Aldort said the LinkedIn service might not see as much success here as in the rest of the world.
“The mobile application is really a way to help tap into the non-U.S. crowd,” Aldort said.
LinkedIn could be popular with mobile-phone users in Japan who tend to use their phones for data services much more frequently than U.S. or European consumers. It could also be popular in emerging markets, such as China, where some professionals may not have personal computers at home. (Editing by Maureen Bavdek)