LinkedIn as a Platform

From the first conversations that I had with Reid Hoffman about LinkedIn, what was striking was the amazing clarity about how value is created by social web properties.  Those conversations turned into one of my favorite talks, where I walk through the basic understanding of LinkedIn as a Platform business for students and new hires.

Since it’s a such a popular framework, I thought I’d capture an outline of it here so that others can benefit from it.  There is nothing here that won’t be familiar to industry insiders and folks who focus on social software.  However, I’ve found that most people, especially technologists who have not had first hand experience with social platforms, seem to find this useful & interesting.

LinkedIn as a Platform

I started my career as a software engineer, and as a result, I’ve always had a very technical view of what defines a platform.  Across multiple decades, platforms tended to be defined by technical constructs: entities and services that are exposed to software developers.

What’s most interesting about the social web is that, for the first time, technology is necessary but insufficient to deliver a successful platform.  So while LinkedIn is a technology company and great technology is a prerequisite for a great platform, it’s important to understand that in this generation great technology alone won’t ensure success.

Why the Social Web is Different

The reason why technology alone isn’t sufficient is due to the simple fact that on the social web, the true value of the platform extends from the users themselves.

First and foremost, users interact with each other.  At LinkedIn, the very first type of interaction was the simple act of connecting.  If you look at Web 1.0 companies, they spend an inordinate amount of money on user acquisition.  On social properties, user acquisition is effectively free because users generate activity, and that activity brings in other users.  This activity can be an invitation, a message, a comment, a like – any way that one person can reach out and contact another user.  More importantly, as a metrics-oriented product manager I can tell you, the likelihood that a person will respond to another person is easily an order of magnitude (10x+) higher than the response rates of a person to a company.  (Just think about your inbox and you’ll see it’s obviously true.)

What’s interesting about all of this user activity is that, in fact, activity itself is a form of content.  When someone responds in a group, comments on a status update, votes on a poll, or answers a question, they don’t just interact with other users – they also create content.  That content, as it turns out, becomes a catalyst for other people to engage and interact.

In fact, one of the primary aspects of a social platform is that users generate content.  Once again, looking back at the Web 1.0 generation of websites, content creation was one of the most challenging things to economically scale.  On social websites, users generate the bulk of the content.  What’s more, that content itself drives additional users to the site.  For example, the very first type of content that users created at LinkedIn was their professional profile.  Users discover this content via search engines, applications, and social distribution, and they join LinkedIn to engage with that content.

When developers want to connect with the LinkedIn platform, whether they are giant companies like Microsoft and SAP or tiny startups, the technology is just the means.  What they really want to connect to is this incredible engine of professionals, content, and activity.  It’s this vibrant, circulating, and growing engine of content that developers want to connect to.  This entire engine is really the LinkedIn platform.

Businesses Built Over the Platform

LinkedIn has had an open developer platform since late 2009, but it was in very early days that the company realized that it was fundamentally a platform business.

Despite it’s popular reputation as a site that has always made money, for the first few years LinkedIn did not focus on monetization at all.  There was always a high degree of confidence that if you could aggregate the world’s professionals and understand their reputations and relationships, it would be a new and incredibly valuable ecosystem.  However, around 2005 and into 2006, LinkedIn began experimenting with a few different theories on what the best way to build a sustainable business over this platform.

One theory was that, when you pull together a huge number of professionals, there would be an opportunity for hiring managers and companies to find great talent.  This was the precursor to the “Hiring Solutions” family of products.

Another theory was that, when you pull together a huge number of professionals, there would be an opportunity for companies to reach professionals with their products and services.  This was the precursor to the “Marketing Solutions” family of products.

Yet another theory was that there would be a small percentage of power users who would be willing to pay money for additional search and communications capabilities.  This was the precursor to the “Subscriptions” family of products.

Now, all of this pre-dates my joining the company, but what is truly amazing about this story is that, very quickly, all of these businesses worked.  And by worked, I mean they started immediately generating interesting and growing revenue.  This is also why LinkedIn slammed to positive cash flow so early in its history, and why the first party I got to attend when I joined the company was the “In the Black” party where the company celebrated that milestone.  (It was a good party.)

I can’t tell you how unique it is to have a technology startup that finds not one, but three potentially huge revenue streams early in its history.  In fact, most venture capitalists tend to prefer that companies find a single business model to execute against.

But the truth is, this was the catalyst for realizing an important fundamental truth: the LinkedIn platform is an incredibly powerful and valuable ecosystem, and that multiple great businesses can (and will continue) be built over it.

Where LinkedIn Spends Most of Its Time

One of the great things about LinkedIn as a company is that there is incredible alignment across the company about how our ecosystem creates value.  The value comes from the vibrancy of the professional network itself.

This is why, across the company, you’ll see that the vast majority of energy is spent on figuring out how to leverage this platform of professional identity and insights to make LinkedIn more useful, more often to professionals globally.  It turns out that the more professionals, the more activity, the more content created, the more value is created for all of LinkedIn’s businesses.

This is why LinkedIn puts their members first.  Our job is to connect the world’s professionals, and make them more productive and successful.  The rest follows.

Extending LinkedIn Across the Web

As LinkedIn extends itself as a true professional operating system for the web, the incredible volume and velocity of professional identity and insights will provide value to a whole new generate of web, desktop, mobile and enterprise applications.

RIP Resume. Apply with LinkedIn is now Live.

Just a quick blog post tonight, after a full day of meetings explaining the new Apply with LinkedIn plug-in that we launched today.

Jon Seitel put up a great blog post on LinkedIn about the feature. I’m not going to try to duplicate here, but for those of you curious about what we launched today, here’s the intro:

Our goal with Apply with LinkedIn is to help every professional put their best foot forward, anywhere across the web, when they take that leap to apply for a new position, a dream job.

We are going to make it easy for you to submit your profile for any job application on the web with one simple click.  Some of the first companies to debut “Apply with LinkedIn” button on their company websites (besides our own) include Netflix, TripIt, Photobucket and over a thousand other companies. In addition, we’re also working closely with the top Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help them and their customers match the best candidates for the right jobs.

Instead, I just want to use this space on my personal blog to say thank you to the full team at LinkedIn for taking this concept from vision to reality. With all great products simplicity can be the most difficult goal to achieve. Apply with LinkedIn will permanently change the way millions of professionals find their next great opportunity, and the way companies will find their best talent.

Apply with LinkedIn is just an early example of what LinkedIn can achieve as it builds out it’s vision of a professional operating system for the web.

So a special thank you to the whole team in Mountain View.

Now, Next Play.

‘Twas The Night Before Hackday

A quick parody of a classic to celebrate the LinkedIn Hackday tomorrow (July 15th).  Apologies in advance for the inside jokes / names.  It may not make complete sense to those of you who are not LinkedIn employees.

Twas the night before Hackday, when all through LinkedIn
Not a person was stirring, not even Stegman.

The fridges were stocked with cans of Redbull

The cups were all stacked, the bins were all full.


The hackers were nestled with text editors,

The build was still stable, with normal errors.

iPhones were docked, and Droids were all sleeping,

And MacBooks were purring with power lights breathing.


All of a sudden the InGraphs start flashing,

The NOC is alerted; what is now crashing?

Henke & Kevin were quickly online,

What could be causing this kind of flatline?


Before the team could dive into root cause,

The problems had ended and everyone paused.

Elliot checked, and the metrics were fine

2011 would be over the line.


Suddenly a voice boomed from across the LinkedGym

There was no doubt: the Wizard of In!

He comes every month, for the same simple reason:

Hackday is coming, and it’s coding season


“Forget all your meetings, tell Outlook to shove it.

Hackday’s for coding, just try it, you’ll love it.

Inspire your colleagues, show what you wrote,

Win their applause, and count Twitter votes!”


The Wizard began to run even faster,

and shouting the names of past Hackday Masters,

“Go Crosa, go Ragade, go Efrat & Heuser. Go Gillick, go Jiong, go Blackburn &
Brikman.
Go John, go Matthew, go Shoup & Grishaver. Go Peter, Go Sam, Go Shannon &
Vikram.”

As he ran by the kitchen, he stopped for a second:

“I need a Coke Freestyle, this thing is just heaven.”

Quick as he came, he ran out the door,

“Happy Hackday to all, you are all h@x0rs”

How to Make a Great T-Shirt: Metrics

This is the third post in my series on “How to Make a Great Tech T-Shirt“.

Define Success to Achieve Success

On the consumer web, product managers succeed and fail based on their ability to define, measure and understand their product metrics.  When new Product Managers start at LinkedIn, one of the first tasks that I give them is to thoroughly reassess the metrics in the area they are taking over, and prepare a new set of metrics that they will use to measure success with their area on an ongoing basis.

As a result, it’s not completely surprising that I believe that if you want to make great t-shirts for a technology organization, you have to first define a clean, objective measure of success.  You then have to experiment, measure, learn and iterate to produce truly great t-shirts.

Key Metrics: T-Shirt Success

The key to a good metric is simple.  Objectivity.  The problem with t-shirts is that *everyone* has an opinion about what they want in a t-shirt.  Unfortunately, almost no one has ever tested out their pet theories in an objective way.  Thus, T-Shirt choices get made based on the personal opinions of the people making them, rather than what will be most successful for the organization.

Over my years of making t-shirts at LinkedIn, I’ve narrowed my success metrics to a simple measure:

  • What percent of people who received a t-shirt wear it after a 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and 12 month time periods

That’s a lot to absorb, but it’s really quite simple.  Let’s say you made 100 t-shirts in October 2009:

  • How many people wore your t-shirt to work in November 2009?
  • How many people wore your t-shirt to work in January/April/October 2010?

Clearly, if the more people wearing your shirt on an ongoing basis, the more successful your shirt was at achieving its objectives.

If You Make A T-Shirt and No One Wears It…

  • Q: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?  (A: yes)
  • Q: If you make a t-shirt and no one wears it, was it worthwhile to make a shirt? (A: no)

In my blog post, Why T-Shirts Matter, I outlined over half a dozen reasons why t-shirts are important to technology organizations.  None of those justifications come true, however, if no one wears the t-shirt.  That’s why success is defined by how often people wear the t-shirt, and for how long.

If you’ve made t-shirts before, then you probably recognize the pattern of failure.  In the failure case, everyone takes a t-shirt, but somehow, you never see people wear them around the office.  Sure, maybe a couple people wore them the day after you handed them out.  But a few weeks later, it’s like they never existed.  When you ask about them, people tell you “Oh, I wear it on the weekend” or “I use it for the gym”.  Listen, let’s be honest.  A lot more people in technology talk about going to the gym than actually doing it.  These are the white lies people tell you to avoid telling you the truth: “I took a t-shirt because, for some uncontrollable reason, I have to take any t-shirt that is offered.  But I’m never going to wear it.”

Experiment With Your Shirts

You should be making at least one new t-shirt per quarter for your technology organization, so you have time to learn and experiment.  As we go through the upcoming blog posts on t-shirt quality and design, you’ll see that there are a variety of choices.  There is no one universal answer, but if you are attentive to what t-shirts “work” in your organization, you’re more likely to make new t-shirts that work.

For example:

  • Should you make women’s sizes?  The answer is simple – if it increases the number of people who will wear the shirts to the office and for longer, then yes, you should.  (At LinkedIn, this is absolutely true.)
  • Are certain colors more successful than others?  Absolutely.  (At LinkedIn, the best colors are black, navy, charcoal grey, and heather grey).
  • Should you spend more on higher quality t-shirt manufacturers and materials?  Absolutely.  T-Shirts that go bad quickly or shrink end up never getting worn.  Better to spend $12 for shirts you’ll see for the next two years than $5 on shirts you won’t see again.

I think the more you think about the simplicity of this metric, the more you’ll see that it will help you quickly spot at your workplace what are the shirts people love, and thus which shirts were worth the time & money.

 

Why LinkedIn Hackdays Work

Two weeks ago, we celebrated yet another great Hackday judging event at LinkedIn.  For the April 15th Hackday, over 50 employees submitted a combined total of 29 projects for the contest.  We saw incredible product concepts, developer tool innovations, internal corporate applications, and even a few ideas so good they’ll likely ship as products in the coming weeks.  At this point, it feels like every Hackday is better than the one before it.

Most of the engineers who work at LinkedIn have also worked at other great technology companies, and in the past year there has been an incredible swell of feedback from new and old employees alike that LinkedIn Hackdays have become something truly special.  Creating the LinkedIn Hackday has been an iterative, experimental process, so I thought it might be useful to capture some of the details on how LinkedIn Hackdays work, and more importantly, why we run them the way we do.

Origins

It’s funny to think about it now, but the original LinkedIn Hackday had an unlikely catalyst.  On December 14th, 2007 approximately 100+ LinkedIn employees moved into a brand new space on the first floor of 2029 Stierlin Court.  It was the first time that LinkedIn had designed a workspace from the ground-up, and it included a large number of LCD TV’s on the wall.  The goal was to immerse the product and engineering teams in real-time feedback and data from the LinkedIn community, and each of the TV’s was driven by small Mac Mini.

The “Pure Energy” contest kicked off right before Christmas, with a goal of using some of the seasonal downtime to produce cool, internal applications that we could effectively “hang on the wall”.  The prize?  Brand new iPhones for the winning team.  The only rules?  The application had to reflect real usage of LinkedIn, it had to run continuously (so it could be left up 24×7), it had to be designed for display on a 720P monitor (1366×768), and it had to run in either Safari or as a Mac OS X screensaver.

Five projects were submitted, and several became staples of our decoration in 2029 for all of 2008.  (Coincidentally, December 2007 was also the first time we pull the live Twitter search for “LinkedIn” up on the wall for everyone in Product & Engineering to see at all times through the day).  The winner of the “Pure Energy” contest, NewIn, still lives on in an upgraded form, in both the LinkedIn reception lobby as well as on LinkedIn Labs.

Key Ingredients

We’ve learned a lot in the past four years about how to make Hackdays successful at LinkedIn, but at a high level, there are ten key ingredients that make LinkedIn Hackdays work.

  1. For Engineers, By Engineers.  This may be obvious, but Hackdays are highly optimized events around engineering culture.  There may be a lot of opinions about what would be considered “fun” or “useful”, but for Hackdays, in the end, is designed for engineers.  This effects everything from the timing, the prizes, the venue and the communication around it.

  2. Spirit of Exploration.  Hackdays have an opinionated culture, and one of those opinions is that with software it is infinitely better to learn by actually doing, rather than reading / talking.  It’s part of why people go into engineering in the first place.  This is one of the reasons that we celebrate hacks that are purely to learn a new language, environment, algorithm, or architecture.  This is not just a fun thing to do – it’s an incredibly effective way to expose talented engineers to new technology, and more importantly, set a tone that we should always be learning.

  3. Independence.  Hackdays are a day of true self-determination.  At LinkedIn, we believe that small, cross-functional teams build the best software.  Teams do a great job looking at product metrics, customer requests, and innovative ideas from the team, and then prioritizing what to work on.  Hackdays are a day to break free, and work on whatever you personally find interesting.  If you have a great idea, this is the day to help make it a reality.

  4. Company-wide Event. Hackdays may be optimized for engineers, but everyone is invited and included.  Some of the best Hackday projects come from an engineer, web developer and product manager working together.  We’ve had entries from almost every function, and from multiple offices.  Most importantly, hackday projects are shared with the entire company on the intranet, and Hackday Judging is an event that everyone is encouraged to attend.  Winners are announced to the whole company.  It’s incredibly important to cement hackdays as a part of company culture, rather than something that lives within the engineering function.

  5. Executive Attention.  Believe it or not, it wasn’t until 2010 that we stumbled upon an obvious truth.  Executive attention matters.  Actions speak louder than words, and when executives make a point to attend, reference, and discuss hackday projects, it makes a huge difference to the entire organization.  At every LinkedIn Hackday Judging event, you’ll now find at least three of LinkedIn’s senior executives on the panel.

  6. It’s a Contest, but Loosely Enforced.  LinkedIn Hackdays are thrown on Fridays, with the submission date for projects due at 9am on the following Monday.  Teams are limited to five people, and projects have to be presented live for Hackday Judging to be considered for prizes.  Having rules for hackdays is a delicate balance – if you are too weak on enforcement, people lose faith in “the system”, and you’ll get discontent from the people who follow them.  However, too tight on the rules, and you break the independent spirit of the event.

  7. Hackday Judging, or Hackday Idol?  Hackday Judging has morphed over the years into an “American Idol” like event.  The hackdays themselves are relatively independent and quiet.  It’s the judging that is the main event.  Teams are given two minutes to demo their hacks.  The panel of celebrity judges is given a minute to asks questions, and then it’s on to the next project.  We serve lots of food & drink, and try to make it a fun event.  (Typically, I fill the role of Ryan Seacrest.  Yes, I know that my mom would be proud.)  There is a lot of laughing, a lot of cheering, and we try to make a good time for everyone.  Most people who attend leave the event incredibly inspired by what their co-workers come up with.  More importantly, once people attend, they tend to come back again (or better yet, enter their own projects.)  We now have everyone in the company help judge by tweeting out their favorite projects with the project name and a #inday hashtag.

  8. Lots of Prizes. We give prizes to every team that present a project at Hackday, typically a reasonably sized Apple gift card.  Winning teams get larger dollar amounts.  We have 5-6 regular categories, so there are always multiple winners.  Some times, we give additional prizes for stand out projects, but that’s up to the judges.  The reason for gift cards is logistics – giving out iPhones, iPods, Flip cameras, etc sounds like a great idea, but too often you get winners who already have one, or who don’t want one.  (The Apple bias bugs some people, but the truth is we’ve experimented with a wide variety of prizes, and people on average seem to really prefer these.  We did notice that our college interns preferred Amazon gift certificates, however…)

  9. Path to Production.  Some hackday projects are so impressive, there is a natural desire to shout “SHIP IT!”  In reality, however, hackday projects can vary significantly in their technical and product appropriateness for a large scale production environment.  At LinkedIn, we’ve now found multiple ways for people to share their hacks.  Some projects live on hosted on internal machines, and are used by employees.  Some of our best internal tools have come from previous hackdays.  Other projects are built over the LinkedIn Platform, and can be launched to end users on LinkedIn Labs.  Some projects are actually extensions of our production codebase, and actually become live site features.  (Example: The 2010 Year In Review email began as a Hackday Winner, as did the inline YouTube expansion in the LinkedIn feed.)

  10. Learn & Iterate.    We are big believers in continuous improvement, and I don’t think there has been a single hackday where we didn’t add some improvements.  We constantly try out new things, and stick with the ones that work, and shed the ones that don’t.  The pace of innovation has dramatically quickened as hackdays became more frequent, and as the company has grown larger.

Common Issues & Questions

It would be impossible to capture all the common questions about hackdays here, but I thought it was worthwhile to capture a few persistent questions that we’ve debated in our process of creating LinkedIn Hackdays.

  • I have a great hackday idea – how do I find engineers to build it?
    This is a really well meaning question, typically from non-technical employees, who are excited about the idea of hackday, but lack the means to implement it themselves.   The most reliable way that people solve this problem is by talking about their idea broadly, and effectively evangelizing the idea of forming a hackday team around it.  In the past, we’ve tried throwing pre-hackday mixers, usually around a technical topic, to help people find teams, but it’s had at best mixed success.

  • I want people to build features for XYZ – how do we get people to do it?
    This question typically comes from a product manager, executive, or business owner who sees hackdays as a massive amount of valuable potential engineering effort for their area.  In this case, the short answer is that hackdays are about independence – the more you try to get people to do what you want, the more energy (and innovation) you sap from the system.  That being said, we’ve seen quite a bit of success where teams sponsor “special prizes” for a specific category on a given hackday.  Example: an iPad 2 for the project voted best “developer tool”.  This approach seems to provide the best balance of independence and incentive to generate the desired result.

  • How do we get all hackday projects live to site?
    This question assumes that the goal of all hackday projects should be to go live to site.  However, given the education and innovation mandate of hackday, there are actually quite a few projects that are not intended to go live to site, and that’s not a bad thing.  The way that we’ve handled this question is by providing both a variety of mechanisms for projects to “go live”, as well as prize categories for projects that are not based on being a “shippable” feature.

  • How can we spare a day from our priorities for a Hackday?
    In some ways, this is the big leap of faith.  For anyone who has attended any of the recent LinkedIn Hackdays, it’s hard to imagine this being considered seriously at this point.  However, at small companies, there are always more things to do than time to do them.  The decision to have hackdays is largely based on the belief that giving people time to learn by doing and to pursue independent ideas will pay off in multiples, not just in the projects themselves, but in the attitude and energy it brings to the company overall.  In some ways, you can view it as an HR benefit that also has a measurable positive impact on culture, internal technology, and product innovation.

  • How do we get people to participate?
    The ten ingredients above reflect the system that we’ve devised, but the truth is it took time for hackdays to build into a culture fixture at LinkedIn.  In 2008, we threw two hackdays, and had about half a dozen teams enter each.  However, as the company celebrated each hackday winner, we saw demand pick up.  We had a major breakthrough in participation when we launched the “Hackday Idol” format for judging in early 2010, and since then we’ve seen incredible growth in the number of participants and projects.

What’s Next?

I’ve got a few new innovations ready to roll out for the May 20th hackday.  Not to spoil the surprise, but we’ll be rolling out for the first time a new “Hackday Masters” designation and category, for people who have won at least three hackdays.

Hopefully, the Wizard of In will smile down on us, and as always reward those who seek to bend code to their will.

Personal Finance for Engineers

Last Friday, LinkedIn had it’s monthly “InDay”, an event where the company encourages employees to pursue research, ideas & interests outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. (This is the same day that I run the regular LinkedIn Hackdays for the company.) This month, the theme was “personal finance” as a brief nod to the ominous due date for income taxes in the United States.

For fun, I volunteered to give a talk based on material that I’ve put together over the years called “Personal Finance for Engineers”

I cover the most obvious two questions up front:

  1. Why Personal Finance?  Personal finance is a bit of a passion of mine, and has been for almost twenty years.  It’s both amazing and shocking to me that you can attend some of the finest secondary schools and universities in this country, and still not get a basic grounding in personal finance.  More importantly, it happens to be an area with a huge signal-to-noise problem:  there is far more “bad” advice and content out there than good content.  And lastly, I believe that money matters are deeply important to the long term success and happiness of most people. The fact remains that when I’m experiencing a health complication and need money to expedite my EHIC application, money suddenly matters a lot! (Let’s face it, money happens to be one of the top three causes of marital problems)
  2. Why Engineers?  The talk isn’t purely for engineers, per se, so this reflects a personal bias (I just empathize more with engineers more than other people).  That being said, engineers tend to make higher incomes earlier in life than most people, and thus face some of these questions earlier.  They also tend to have stock options, a fairly advanced financial instrument, as part of their standard compensation.  Probably most troubling, engineers also consider themselves exceptionally rational, which makes them more prone to human weaknesses when it comes to money.

It was very hard to decide how to condense personal finance into a 60 minute talk (I leave 30 minutes for advanced topics).  I decided to focus on five topics:

  • You Are Not Rational (Behavioral Finance)
  • Liquidity is Undervalued (Emergency Fund)
  • Cash Flow Matters (Spend less than you Earn)
  • The Magic of Compounding (Investment Returns & Debt Disasters)
  • Good Investing is Boring (Asset Allocation)

The deck is not perfect by any stretch, and I have a number of ideas on how to improve it.  There are some great topics / examples I missed, and there are some points that I could emphasize more.  I spend literally half the time on behavioral finance, which may or may not be the right balance.

The talk went extremely well.  We had well over 100 people attend, and stay through the full 90 minutes.  Surprisingly, I got more thank yous and follow up questions from this talk than any other that I’ve given at LinkedIn.  I’m strongly considering giving it again, perhaps at other venues, depending on the level of interest.

Let me know what you think.

LinkedIn for Android: The T-Shirt

Today was a banner day for the LinkedIn Mobile team, with the big launch of LinkedIn for Android v1.0.  The application was built from the ground up to be the best mobile experience for LinkedIn on Android, and includes our fastest people search implementation on any mobile device. (It’s already climbing the Top 25 free social apps on the Google Marketplace)

Last year, I wrote a very popular blog post about the importance of T-Shirts at tech companies.  So it makes sense that to celebrate the launch, we made a new t-shirt.  No doubt that this will become the must-have item for  2011.

The front of this charcoal grey t-shirt will sport the following graphic, courtesy of rock star mobile designer Frank Yoo:

The back will feature the logo: LinkedIn for Android.  I love it – something about the little blue LinkedIn droid with a tie is just adorable.

Kudos to the team on a great app, a great launch, and most importantly, a great t-shirt.

Easter Egg: The LinkedIn Wizard Goes Web-Wide

For some reason, I *love* Easter Eggs.

No, I don’t mean the candy colored eggs that people make and roll to celebrate the holiday.  Easter eggs are the playful name for hidden features, games, and funny content that software engineers embed in their products for fun.  This was extremely popular in the early days of consumer software in the 1980s (there is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to Microsoft’s early easter eggs.)

You still see easter eggs in websites from time to time.  Maybe a funny error page.  Maybe a game appears when you click the right spot on a web page.  But it’s not as common as it used to be.

The New LinkedIn Platform

Today was a huge launch for the LinkedIn Platform team.  After months of effort, the team launched an incredible new way for developers to bring powerful professional identity & insights into any web application. (If you haven’t checked out the new developer.linkedin.com, definitely go do it now.)

The LinkedIn Wizard

I am proud to reveal tonight, on my personal blog, that thanks to Jakob Heuser, there is an eighth “undocumented” professional plugin for the web.  If you want to see it, all you have to do is use the following script on your website:

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://platform.linkedin.com/in.js"></script>

<script type="IN/Wizard" size="large"></script>

 

The Wizard of In, patron of all LinkedIn Hackdays, has gone web-wide.

Playing “Where’s Waldo” with the LinkedIn 100 Million Photo

Yesterday, LinkedIn celebrated reaching 100 million members… an amazing milestone.

As part of the celebration, the whole team in Mountain View gathered for a photo outside of the main building:

Now the fun part… can you play “Where’s Waldo?” and find me in the picture?

It was hard not to feel good about the scope of what LinkedIn has accomplished.  This photo was an amazing reminder of how many great people are working every day help LinkedIn change the world.  In some ways, this photo is a reminder that I’m a small part of that story.

Still early days.  So much more ahead of the team than behind it.

What I Would Do with the Coke Freestyle

One of the best features of the new building that LinkedIn opened up at 2051 Stierlin Court in Mountain View is the new Coca-Cola Freestyle. The Freestyle is a modern soda fountain wrapped in a vending machine. You can order any one of over 100 different varieties of soft drink, ranging from flavored Dasani water to my personal (and discontinued) favorite: Diet Vanilla Coke.

After playing with the machine for a few months, I’ve realized that Coca-Cola is sitting on a massive marketing opportunity with his machine, if they execute it aggressively. Obviously, coming from the social web, I have a particular angle on how I would leverage this new machine in the marketplace.

How It Works

The Coke Freestyle may look like a vending machine, but it’s internals look more like a giant inkjet printer. It seems to have two types of cartridges: large bulky core soft drink syrups (e.g. Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke, etc) and smaller flavor syrups (vanilla, lime, sugar-free vanilla, etc). It combines these with a water source and carbonation on demand based with varying portions of each.

Thus, a small number of core flavors and accent flavors can deliver a truly breathtaking variety of soft drinks. My six year old, for example, delights in flavors of Sprite he never imagined (including a distinctly fluorescent purple “Grape Sprite”).

Most exciting of all, the machine is equipped with a Verizon USB wireless modem, and is IP-capable. Nominally, this exists so that the machine can report daily on its supply levels, allowing service to know which cartridges need restocking.

While the software on the machine is extremely primitive, it’s this networked capability that has the potential to turn the Coke Freestyle into a game changing marketing machine.

Give Customers Choice

The first step in redesigning the software on the Coke Freestyle is to start crowd sourcing new flavors. With a few simple variables, Coke could take this machine from offering 100 different drinks to thousands.

Want a Barq’s Root beer with Cherry? You got it. Coke Zero with Lemon? Whatever floats your boat.

A very small set of options could really open up thousands of possibilities:

  • Pick any base syrup
  • Pick up to two accent syrups
  • Let them “double” a flavor (e.g. Extra Cherry)

Make Customization a Game

Now the fun begins. There are a number of game design principles we could apply here.

First, the machine could highlight the “top” custom flavors that have been recently ordered on the machine. This would serve as a mechanism to obtain “votes” for new flavors that expert users create.

To help mix up selection, the machine should also highlight recent choices or randomized choices to help ensure that a few custom drinks don’t runaway with the voting.

In a perfect world, this voting would be personalized. Maybe people can name their drinks and take credit for their creation. This could be done by making the machine accessible to nearby smart phones. (BTW This might be a great reason for people to have an account with cocacola.com, tied to their Facebook or Twitter accounts)

Very soon, machines would develop their own popular custom flavors. Machines near each other can pick up flavors from the same geography. Local variations in preferences and popularity can turn into realtime market research and crowd sourced product development. Who knows? Maybe root beer with cherry syrup is a winner in East Texas? The best flavors can then efficiently be produced and promoted in geographies pre-tested by the Coke Freestyle network.

In this world, rather than devoting R&D effort to new brand extensions, Coke can focus on new base and accent syrups.

Stoke Distribution

The Coke Freestyle, by virtue of being a networked device, can also promote drinks effectively and price dynamically. If there is a big push for Diet Coke Vanilla, it can be highlighted and discounted appropriately. More importantly, like Starbucks, members with accounts can get promotional discounts and rewards to keep them coming back to Coke.

Price Aggressively

Given the incredible market research and distribution benefits of the Coke Freestyle, pricing becomes a really interesting question. Compared to “dumb” vending machines, these networked devices might enable heavily subsidized pricing. Given the relatively lower marginal cost of goods for a fountain-based machine, Coke might be able to fundamentally alter the dynamics of vending distribution by deploying machines in shopping malls and high traffic locations and undercutting competitive machines.

Who is to say that they couldn’t offer drinks at 25 cents each? If the primary goal of the machines is to generate and test brand extensions, there is a powerful motive to generate a large a volume of frequent voting.

This is the real strategic question for Coke: are they willing to disrupt well known and established vending machine economics to build out a realtime market research platform? How much is this data potentially worth?

Does Coke Get It?

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to get network access to the Coke Freestyle to experiment with some of these concepts as a Hackday project. I was disappointed to find out that the machine currently has extremely limited services exposed over the network.

I hope Coke realizes what a winner they have on their hands with his machine.

Adam Nash is Metro Man

I got this sent to me in email today.  It seems to have become a running joke among a few of my fellow LinkedIn employees.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

  1. Do I need to change my official superhero for 500 Startups? (currently: Optimus Prime)
  2. Am I missing something funny about this comparison?  This seems way too flattering…

I wills say one thing – I’m going to have to hit the gym a bit more to fit into that costume.

Why T-Shirts Matter

During my tenure at LinkedIn, I’ve held a wide variety of roles and responsibilities within the company.  Some are fairly public (as described on my LinkedIn profile).  Others are the the type that you’d never find formally discussed, and yet would be no less true if you asked anyone who worked at the company.

In a rare combination of serendipity, passion, and empowerment, I personally ended up with one of those unspoken roles: the most prodigious producer of LinkedIn t-shirts.

2010 LinkedIn for Breast Cancer Awareness Shirt

At the recent Silicon Valley Comes to the UK trip, I had the chance to have a great conversation with Dave Hornik on why making t-shirts matter to high tech start-ups.   Believe it or not, I felt that this was a subject important enough to capture in a blog post.  (My friends from The Clothing People and I will write a separate blog post on how to make truly great high tech t-shirts, which is a field of expertise unto itself.)

Why T-Shirts Matter

At a high level, understanding the typical culture at a high tech startup can be difficult for those who haven’t worked for one.  The best analogy I can think of is to put yourself back in time, to when you were between 8 – 12 years old.  Now, think carefully about the things that 8 – 12 year old boys like (at least, the geeky ones).  Video games.  Caffeine.  e-scooter from this excellent guide.  Toys.  Computers. Bean bag chairs.  Junk food.  This should help orient you, and brings you to the right frame of mind about t-shirts.

T-shirts are a part of that culture.  In part, t-shirts represent the ultimate middle finger to those unnamed sources of authority who wanted software engineers to dress like “Thomas Anderson” in the Matrix.  Software engineers want to be Neo, not John Anderson.

This leads us to the reasons why t-shirts matter:

Empowerment.  In some ways, engineers delight in having found a profession where their intellect and passion for technology have enabled them to earn a great living and work at a company where – yes, you guessed it – they can wear t-shirts to work.  Giving out t-shirts tells your employees, implicitly, that you get it.  You hire only the best, and the best can wear whatever they want.  It says you know that you value merit over appearance; a working prototype over an MBA.

Incentives.  Over the past decade, behavioral finance has taught us that people don’t value money rationally – it varies depending on form and context.  You can bring a $20 bottle of wine to your girlfriend’s parents’ house and be thought a gentleman.  Handing her Mom a $20 at the door isn’t looked on the same way.   Let me just tell you, free t-shirts evoke some sort of primal response at a high tech company.  I’ve often said that I would see less interest at a high tech company handing out $100 bills than handing out free t-shirts.  High tech companies are filled with benefits that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, benefit a minority of employees, and are generally under-appreciated financially.  You’d be shocked at what a $200 per person per year budget for t-shirts will do for employee morale comparatively.

Tribal Cohesion. There are a lot of reasons why many institutions require employees to wear uniforms.  Common appearance can be a reminder that the person represents the company.  More importantly, common dress signals who is “part of the tribe” and belongs to the corporate family.  Uniforms are incompatible with the “empowerment” aspect of how people want to dress, but t-shirts can represent a form of “voluntary uniform” if produced in sufficient variety and quantity.   This effect can be had at a team level, when a t-shirt is made just to celebrate a new product, or at the company level.  It has a profound effect on new hires, as well, who desperately want “a shirt” so they can fit in.  It may sound subversive, but t-shirts can provide many of the same benefits of camaraderie and tribal cohesion that uniforms did, without the top-down oppression.

Tenure Based Seniority. High tech companies are largely meritocratic, and as they grow they tend to define roles based on skills & experience rather than “time at the company”.  However, there are positive aspects to rewarding those who have “bled for the company” over the years, and put their hearts and souls into building the business.  T-Shirts, in an innocuous way, implicitly do this by almost always becoming “limited editions”.  Want the t-shirt from the 2007 company picnic?  You had to be there to get one.  How about the shirt from the first intern program?   The launch of a game-changing new product?  Even shirts that are given out to the whole company will become rare at a company that’s growing rapidly.  In a socially acceptable way, t-shirts subtlely communicate a form of tenure that is warm, and yet structured.

Branding.  As discussed under “Tribal Cohesion”, people want to wear the brand of their tribe.  They will wear them out everywhere if you let them.  Let them.  While being careful not to interfere with the uniqueness of shirts given to employees, make shirts for your developers, your fans, your early adopters.  Long before they become vocal advocates for your brand, they will gladly showcase it if you let them.  This tends to work best in relatively inter-connected, dense, techy cultures like Silicon Valley, but you’d be surprised how far your reach might be.  Of course, this assumes that you make shirts that don’t suck, but we’ll cover that in the next blog post.

So How Do I Make Great Shirts?

It turns out that this is a lot harder than it appears.  Mario always tells me my blog posts are too long, so I’m going to save this topic for the next post…

2010 Pinewood 8th Grade Graduation Speech

Today, at 6pm, I was invited to Pinewood in Los Altos Hills to give the commencement speech at their 8th Grade graduation.  I graduated from Pinewood junior high school in 1987, so it was somewhat of an honor for me to be asked to come back 23 years later to speak to the graduating students.

I wrote the speech last night (on an iPad) at the local Starbucks.  After a number of twitter questions, youtube searches, and other research, I decided to adopt the high level framework from Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement speech at Stanford, replacing his stories with my own, and adding my own form of 8th grade humor.  I did stick with his “dots” lesson, but you can see I changed the lesson from it quite dramatically.

Overall, quite a few people seemed to enjoy the speech, as a number of the students, parents and faculty came up to me afterward.  It seems like the students liked the jokes at the beginning, while the parents liked the third story on painting behind the refrigerator.

While I ad-libbed a few jokes, the notes below are exactly what I brought up onto the podium with me.  Let me know what you think.

Ice Breaker:

  • Last time I gave the 8th grade graduation speech here it was 1987
  • Weighed 85 pounds
  • I was 12 years old
  • Had to stand on a milk crate to reach the microphone to give my speech

Who am I now?

  • I have a wife, 3 beautiful boys, and two really fat dogs.
  • I am an executive at one of the cooler technology companies in the Valley right now.
  • It is part of my job to buy and play with every single new tech toy that comes onto the market.  Yes, it’s true. It’s my job to get the iPad the day it comes out.  Yes, I get paid for it.

(By the way, I appreciate you laughing at all my jokes.  If you don’t think they are funny, don’t be afraid to just laugh at me.  I’ll take it.)

Humorous Anecdote:

Wasn’t sure what to speak about.  Fortunately, they have this thing called the Internet now, and it’s pretty good.  I have over a thousand followers on Twitter, so i asked the for ideas.  I searched YouTube.  Poked around Facebook.  Even asked my younger cousins, who are in junior high now.

Not surprisingly, the ideas were spectacularly bad.

  • Some people said I should include a lot of quotes from Family Guy. I did a search and found over 768 funny quotes from Family Guy.  I’m 99% sure that literally none of them are OK for me to say out loud here.
  • Other people said I should ask the girls whether they are on Team Edward or Team Jacob.  I don’t really even want to know what that means.
  • I got a suggestion to talk about video games.  Apparently, Splinter Cell: Conviction is just awesome.  While that’s probably true, I’m not sure what to tell you about games except that you should treasure these years – once you have kids, you pretty much have until the age of 7 and then they start beating you.
  • Apparently, a lot of people think it would be funny if I gave a lot of advice to the boys in the class about girls.  Unfortunately, I still don’t understand high school girls, so not much help there.  Girls, in case you are curious about high school boys, all you need to know is that they really don’t mature much from here.  Don’t overthink it.

Anyway, since none of those ideas panned out, I decided I would cover three stories today and keep it relatively short.

I am going to tell you some things tonight that you are not going to believe.  But they are true.  Just three stories about:

  1. Coins
  2. Volleyball
  3. Painting

First, Coins.

  • There are a million little things that make you, you.  Don’t ignore them.  When I was little, i loved numbers.  I used to punch 2x2x2 into the calculator until it got too big for it to display.  Yes, I know that I am not normal.  I’ve always been a geek.   But who knew that knowing all the powers of 2 would be a uniquely valuable skill when it came to computers?
  • Hobbies are good.  You’ll be surprised where they’ll take you.  I collected baseball cards and coins.  Yes, I’m a dork.  At the time, I had no idea that I’d end up at business school, and that I’d have a natural sense for markets and trading.  I also had no idea that 20 years later there would be a company named eBay, or that it would do $60 Billion in sales.  I also had no idea that I’d end up working for that company.
  • Steve Jobs said a few years ago that a lot of life is about connecting the dots.
  • The wonderful thing about high school is that you are still busy adding dots to your picture.
  • You’ll spend your life connecting a lot of these dots, but it may not be for years or decades.
  • Don’t let anyone discourage you right now from learning and investigating.  If you find something interesting, don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t worthwhile or cool. Pursue your hobbies, and do them deeply.  You’ll be constantly surprised later at how your life connects the dots.

Lesson 1: Draw lots of dots.

Second,  Volleyball.

  • In my senior year of high school here at Pinewood, I was a starter for the Varsity Volleyball team.  This was a big deal for me, largely because I wasn’t actually always good at Volleyball.
  • In fact, when I first tried out for the team my sophomore year, I didn’t make it.  (The fact that I was 5’3″ at the time may have been a factor).  I made the team my junior year, but mostly as a substitute.  But I practiced.  2 hours a day.  Extra trips to the gym, practicing against the wall, etc.  I didn’t make starter until senior year.
  • There are two types of skills in this world: ones where you’ll have natural talent and ability, and ones where you won’t.   Everyone is different, and I was pretty fortunate to be naturally talented in a bunch of areas.  But there are far more things out there that you won’t be naturally gifted at.
  • Don’t limit yourself to the things you’re good at.  Everyone is afraid of looking foolish, and that keeps a lot of us from pursuing things that we’re interested in, but that we’re not immediately good at.   Don’t fall into that trap in high school.  If you are interested in something, don’t just try it.  Do it, and do it well.
  • Pushing forward and mastering something that you’re not naturally great at gets you way more than just a skill.  It teaches you persistence and diligence.  More importantly, it gives you the confidence to learn and do anything.
  • It also teaches you to not take your talents for granted, and how special it is when you *do* have a unique gift in area.

Lesson 2:  Don’t limit yourself.

Lastly, I promised to tell you about painting.

  • I’ve always liked to work with my hands, and now that I have a house, I’m always doing something to it.  When you paint a room, like the kitchen, you always reach a difficult point – do you paint behind the refrigerator?
  • After all
    • no one else will see it
    • you can fix it later
  • But in the end, there are good reasons to paint behind the refrigerator.
    • first, you know it’s there
    • take pride in your work
    • act as if people are watching
  • Character is what you do when no one is watching
  • Important in high school, tremendously important in college & adult life
  • Some of the worst things that important people have done in the past decades have been because they thought they could get away with cutting either legal or ethical corners when no one was watching.  Many of you will turn out to be important people someday, and like they say, practice makes perfect.

So if I leave you with anything

Lesson 3: Be the type of person who paints behind the refrigerator.

Congratulations to you all.  Thanks for having me here today.  Take care.

Tweets: LinkedIn, Twitter & Lists

Today I had the privilege of taking the wraps of a feature enhancement that my team has been working on for the past few weeks: the new version of Tweets.

LinkedIn Blog: Find and Follow Your LinkedIn Connections on Twitter

Tweets on LinkedIn

You can install Tweets by going to the install page on LinkedIn.

There’s no need to run through all of the great new features – the LinkedIn blog post does a good job of that.   Here is some of the most notable press coverage:

The buzz was fantastic to see.  We pushed out the new application at 4PM PST, and by 4:10PM we were trending with over 20 tweets per minute about the application.  (This included a really nice shout out from Ryan Sarver at Twitter).

One of the most unique aspects of this launch was the added ability to see which of your LinkedIn connections are on Twitter, and which ones your are (or aren’t following).  For example, I personally discovered that I had over 334 LinkedIn connections with Twitter accounts, but was only following 120 of them.  With a few clicks, I was able to discover that key people, including several executives at LinkedIn, had Twitter accounts that I should be following.  Click click click.  Done.

The reason I really loved working on this project is that it captures one of the fundamental reasons the LinkedIn platform is so important.  We believe that every business application would be better if it was integrated with your professional reputation and relationships, and this feature is a great example of how Twitter can become more valuable when it’s integrated with your LinkedIn account.  Finding the right people to follow on Twitter can be difficult, and leveraging your LinkedIn network is a great way to find and follow professionally relevant Twitter accounts.

With the new Twitter list functionality, I can now keep tabs on the tweets of my LinkedIn connections on LinkedIn, on Twitter for iPhone, in Tweetdeck, Seesmic, Twitter.com or any Twitter client that supports lists.  Set it once and forget – LinkedIn keeps it up to date.

A special thank you to the team, in particular Alejandro Crosa, Sarah Alpern and Taylor Singletary.  Very exciting to see this feature live.

You’ll be even more impressed with what we have planned next.  🙂