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LinkedIn Has a Brighter Future Than Apple

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- At the beginning of the year, I called LinkedIn (LNKD) The Riskiest Sure Bet of 2013.

More than seven months later, the stock's up roughly 76.5 percent and within spitting distance of 52-week highs.

In that January 2, 2013, article I credited LinkedIn's success to something Wall Street analysts rarely talked about -- the company's place as a publisher. Because I pay less and less attention to what the analysts say, I'm honestly not sure if they're discussing this ingredient now, but they should be. It's about taking a holistic view of the business. Understanding LinkedIn as a platform -- as a "daily habit," a concept Marissa Mayer uses to describe what she wants, but has yet to achieve at Yahoo! (YHOO).

Mayer lacks focus at Yahoo!. I can't fault her much, as she's admirably taking on the job of realigning a bloated agency with too many moving parts. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has the privilege of building his company's apparatus from the ground-up. It's easier, relatively speaking, for Weiner to preserve the nimbleness of a perpetual startup than it is for Mayer to work in reverse while simultaneously attempting to leverage Yahoo!'s massive size and scale.

We can compare LinkedIn and Yahoo! as "publishers," but we can also look to something completely different by comparing Weiner's achievements to what Tim Cook continues to destroy at Apple (AAPL).

Apple bulls like to claim the company remains the perfectly-focused, well-oiled machine it was under Steve Jobs. They argue that just because we don't know what Apple does behind the scenes doesn't mean nothing or something bad is happening. I call bull.

For as secretive as Steve Jobs was, we always knew where he stood. But, more importantly, we knew were Apple stood. Apple -- the creator and marketer of high-quality, premium-priced, beautifully-designed hardware that provides a second-to-none, intuitive user experience. Without category-killing top notch hardware nothing else has a leg stand on. Not the operating system or its various parts, such as iTunes. An ecosystem like Apple's cannot be "sticky" without great hardware as the driving force.

Jobs was able to maintain focus along those lines. Cook, quite obviously, operates rudderless. He's caught up in copying what others are doing -- maybe with hardware, maybe with software and services (we're not quite sure, he probably isn't either) -- not setting the trend.

That's not the case at LinkedIn. Everything is does makes perfect sense, logically flowing from what came before it.

Even if being a publisher never generates a meaningful amount of direct revenue for LinkedIn (though I think it will), don't underestimate the power of producing content -- some original, some third-party -- users come to expect, day-in and day-out.

Weiner knew he couldn't keep a large enough segment of LinkedIn's audience engaged by being that social network where you go to look for or post a job so he seamlessly morphed LinkedIn into a cross between a wide-ranging professional network and the place to go to find out what's hot in the news, information and tech scenes. And LinkedIn was able to tap a more-than-willing corp of creators, ranging from third-party contributors happy for the additional traffic (such as TheStreet) to new and existing LinkedIn users happy to share their stories and thoughts with their peers.

It's genius. And it's one of the few stories -- like Amazon.com (AMZN) -- investors were able to put their faith in despite a bloated P/E ratio that does little more than disguise LinkedIn's incredible value now and going forward.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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