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.  🙂

LinkedIn for Blackberry: Get It Now

I know this is my personal blog, but sometimes launches are big enough that I feel compelled to announce them here as well.

LinkedIn Blog: LinkedIn for Blackberry: Anytime, Anywhere

You can download it at http://www.linkedin.com/blackberry

Twitter is on fire with the news right – I’m watching the stream of comments in realtime.  Great pieces on TechCrunch & Mashable already.  As usual, the team seems to find it amusing to use my profile in all the screenshots, so I guess that is some measure of fame.

The best part of this launch is that it’s just the beginning of our efforts on the Blackberry platform.  I’m very proud of the entire team for pulling together to make this first launch successful.  Special kudos to Chad Whitney on his first major launch and blog post – he even got a new profile photo for the occassion.  Chad joined my team in December 2009, and has already made a phenomenal impact on our mobile products.

Upgrading a NetGear Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ to 6TB

Recently, I’ve been evaluating different solutions for upgrading my home storage solution for backup and file storage.  A couple of years ago, I decided to purchase an Infrant ReadyNAS NV+, which offers appliance-level simplicity to deploy a virtualized drive over a flexible RAID system.   It’s a 4-drive system that supports hot-swapping of drives and optimized Ethernet traffic for mixed (Mac & Windows) networks.

I’ve been happy with the ReadyNAS, and performance has been fairly good since I upgraded the Gigabit switch that I use.  However, over the past two years, my storage needs have grown:

  • iMac 27″: 2 TB drive for documents / applications / photos, 2 TB drive for iTunes, 2 TB for Time Machine
  • Macbook: 250GB main drive

The ReadyNAS has 4 750GB drives, providing 2.25 TB of available storage.  At the time I deployed it, my backup needs were about 1 TB, so I could use the drive for backups and incremental updates.

The problem now is the iTunes drive.  It’s too large to backup effectively with Time Machine.  I’ve been using Carbon Copy Cloner to update a disk image of the drive on a weekly basis, but I’ve found that it’s extremely finicky and errors out in a number of situations.  Plus, at 1.6TB, the iTunes library will likely outgrow it’s 2TB home sometime in 2010.  (If you’ve ever purchased a TV season on iTunes, you’ll understand the storage needs).

In order to figure this out, I tried asking the question on Quora, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

So, I decided to make the big move to upgrade the system.  Looking at prices on NewEgg, I decided to opt for the Western Digital WD15EARS SATA 1.5TB drives.  Low power and 64MB of cache.  $109 each.  (Great price – selling the 750GB drives will likely pay for 25% of the upgrade).

Unfortunately, the drive wasn’t listed on the compatibility page on NetGear’s website.  Fortunately, a quick board question provided me with the info I needed – the drives will work, if I upgrade to the new beta firmware (4.1.7 T29).

So that’s what I’m doing tonight:

  • Upgrade firmware
  • One-by-one replace each 750GB drive with a 1.5TB and let it resync
  • Once all four drives are replace and synched, reboot and let it reconfigure to the 4.5 TB logical size.

Once I get the ReadyNAS NV+ to 4.5 TB, I’m going to move my iTunes library to the ReadyNAS.  This way, it can scale easily to more than 2 TB, and I don’t have to worry about backup because of the RAID configuration.  (I have a clone of most of the library on a Mac Mini in the kitchen.)  I will then move the 2 TB drive that currently houses the iTunes library, and move it to the Airport Extreme hub so I can use it as a Time Machine drive for the MacBook.

I’m not sure this information is actually useful to anyone.  My guess is that someone, somewhere out there will want to know that you can, in fact, upgrade the Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ to more than 4TB, and that you can use the Western Digital DV15EARS 1.5TB drives with it.  And maybe, just maybe, someone out there is morbidly curious about the evolution of my network storage.

Or so I hope.  I’ll update this post if anything goes wrong.

Rethinking IT as an HR Benefit

This has been something that I’ve been thinking about heavily for the past few years.  There is a trend in Silicon Valley that has been under-appreciated in the press, but nonetheless has rapidly swept through technology companies in the Bay Area. It may not be buzzword-enabled (yet), but it nonetheless may be a truly transformative event for our industry.

More and more companies seem to be thinking of IT as a human resources benefit.

(If your eyes just rolled back in your head, stay with me for a second.  This is a big deal.)

Historically, IT has been positioned as one of two things in the enterprise:

  1. Cost Center. In this model, IT technology and services are a required cost of doing business and being competitive, but don’t add any differentiation versus your competitors.  As a result, IT is managed by cost, and the goal is to provide “sufficient” productivity compared to other comparable companies at the lowest possible cost.  In this frame, every software purchase, every hardware purchase, every investment in training or personnel is evaluated based on price.
  2. Productivity. In this model, IT technology and services are seen as productivity enhancements, and potential differentiators.  Here, investments are made based on an Return on Investment (ROI) justification, where the benefits can include saving time and/or people, or potentially boosting output or revenue.  In this frame, there is a heavy bias towards technology that allows people to get more things done, more quickly, and with fewer errors.

Both of these models tend to heavily favor technology that is cheap.  What they don’t favor is technology that is enjoyable to use.   This has led to many decades of enterprise technology that is sold to decision makers at the top of the organization, and rolled out to reluctant employees who bear the brunt of the cost savings and/or potential productivity gains.

I had never considered that there might be a third model until a blog post about IT at Google surfaced in 2006.  [Note: I hope someone can find this URL for me – I’ve tried with no luck tonight].  This post wrote about how Google set up stations on every floor, with surplus batteries and machines to make swapping out faulty equipment a breeze.  It talked about giving employees a choice of platform to work on.  Most importantly, it talked about thinking about IT as an HR benefit.

IT as an HR Benefit

When you think about benefits in a human resources context, there is a very different frame of reference.  In business school, students who take incentives classes learn about different forms of compensation and their impact on psychology.  In theory, benefits need to justify their existence in some way beyond straight cash compensation.  Sometimes benefits are required because competitors offer them.  Sometimes benefits are offered because it’s cheaper, due to taxes or bulk purchasing power, for the company to buy them than the employee.  Benefits can be long term, or reward certain types of behavior.  In some cases, benefits are offered because people actually appreciate them more than the equivalent of cash.

In most companies, while benefits are in the end a cost center, they are factored into the general budget and philosophy around compensation of employees.  As a result, more often than not, benefits tend to compete with each other.  Given a compensation budget, what percentage of dollars will be spent on salaries vs. bonus vs. benefits?  Would employees prefer a 401k match or transportation vouchers?  Charitable contribution matches or gym discounts?  Who benefits from each program, and how much?  Will the benefit help with recruiting new employees, or with employee satisfaction and retention?

When framed as an HR benefit, IT comes under a whole different light.  Consider:

  • What percentage of your employees time is spent in front of a computer?
  • What is the relative cost of newer, more enjoyable technology over the “base model”?
  • How much would an employee appreciate dollars spent on IT technology vs. other benefits?
  • How does your technology affect your internal corporate culture?

These are very different questions than the ones that tend to drive historical cost-driven IT decision making.

In this model, you might get everyone a 24″ flat panel monitor instead of a 20″ monitor.   Why?  Because as a benefit, this might only cost $50 per employee per year, and they would appreciate it far more than the dollars themselves.   And they would appreciate it for hours every single day.  In fact, they might want to stay at work longer to use it compared to the machine they have at home.

In this model, you might give everyone the choice of mobile device (Blackberry, iPhone, Android, etc).  Of course, it would cost more in software support and development, but allowing employees to use the device of their choice might be appreciated every single day.  It also might make them a little more reluctant to consider working in an environment where they are forced to use a less-preferred platform.

LinkedIn

At LinkedIn, our IT department provides a wide range of choices, which we actually advertise on job postings:

  • Choice between Mac or Windows environment
  • Choice between laptop or workstation
  • Choice between two 24″ displays or a single 30″ display
  • Choice between iPhone or Blackberry

Do these technologies boost productivity?  Absolutely.  Do these technologies cost more than a homogenous, lowest-cost environment?  Absolutely.

But when you look at this list, it’s hard not to see them as benefits.  I see new employees every day, almost giddy when they first get their first laptop and 30″ display, or a tower with 24GB of RAM.  I hear people with guests at lunch brag about how LinkedIn lets you have an iPhone or a Blackberry.

Many of these employees spend anywhere from 4 to 10 hours with this equipment every day – is it any wonder that they perceive these as benefits?

Thoughts for the Industry

The question I have is, how pervasive is this trend?   For most office workers, any computer offers sufficient speed and available software.  In the consumer market, with the resurgence of design-based thinking, we’re seeing more products and profits driven by quality of the experience rather than quantitative metrics or feature checklists.  Will it spread to the enterprise?   Will employees demand it?

Many great professionals that I know in IT long to provide better products and services to their fellow employees.  Maybe this is the opportunity for IT & HR professionals to work together to reframe the way we justify technology at work.

The Man in the Gorilla Suit

A fun article appeared today on Silicon Alley Insider:

Silicon Alley Insider: What’s It Like Working for LinkedIn by Nicholas Carlson

It’s a short piece that covers the basics of working for a hyper-growth, late stage web 2.0 startup.  The piece begins with the following:

During a recent trip out to the Bay Area, we swung by the LinkedIn world headquarters.

We learned that LinkedIn may be the “serious” social network, but the people behind the site know how to have fun.

They wear gorilla suits to the office. They play frisbee golf around cubicles. Sometimes, they build robots modeled after each other.

Sounds like fun, right?  The article has a 24-slide series of photos to illustrate the trip.   The slide show is called:

LinkedIn is Made by Robots and Men in Gorilla Suits

It turns out that I am, in fact, the Man in the Gorilla Suit.

On Slide 17, you see a picture of the large stuffed gorilla that sits next to me at work:

I asked Kay, “what’s with the stuffed bear?” Her answer: “Get your facts right, it’s a stuffed gorilla. Sheesh.” It belongs to VP Adam Nash…

On the next slide, they provide the snapshot from the FAQ page on the company store, where I’m posing in gorilla suit, wearing a LinkedIn t-shirt:

…who is sometimes known to wear a gorilla suit around the office.

As my brother would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

It turns out that the Gorilla suit is just about my favorite Halloween costume.  Originally an eBay purchase in 2005, I wear it every year to the office.

So now you know.

LinkedIn for iPhone 3.0 is LIVE!

Just a quick note to say that the new version of LinkedIn for iPhone is now live in the iTunes App Store.

Download LinkedIn for iPhone

I wrote a fairly lengthy piece on the official LinkedIn blog, so no need to replicate the full walk-through here.  In any case, check out this new home screen:

This application represents a huge achievement for the team.  It’s really a complete redesign and re-architecture of the entire stack supporting the application, based on an end-to-end design that was driven by user feedback and business metrics.

Building iPhone apps is a wonderful throwback in some ways to the days of client software, except with the advantage of over a decade and a half of web-based architectures.  There is a richness to client applications that the web still doesn’t replicate, and a complexity and depth to their design that is often under-appreciated.

Of course, the team had fun too.  The “Themes” feature, for example, was never part of the original plan.  It was originally a last minute easter egg that we included for fun in internal testing.  It proved so popular, however, we felt like we had to include it for everyone.

There are hundreds of things I love about this new application.  Even the way it presents a user’s profile is thoughtful, as LinkedIn is designed to allow you to put your best foot forward as a professional:

Of course, I wouldn’t be a product manager if I didn’t also have hundreds of things I’d like to see improved in the application.  It has been fun to watch the Twitter stream all day, as the feedback has been mostly positive.  Still, while this application represents a big leap forward for LinkedIn on the iPhone, it’s really just a beginning.  What’s most exciting about the architecture of this application is that it will let us rapidly innovate and improve the mobile experience through 2010 and beyond.

So here’s a quick shout out to the team – thank you for the hard work and effort in 2009 to produce an iPhone app we can be proud of.   I couldn’t be more excited for 2010, as we change the way people think of mobile business applications.

LinkedIn Takes People Search to Eleven

I apologize for the reference to Spinal Tap, but this is my personal blog after all.

I normally don’t post most LinkedIn announcements here, but this one is too big to ignore.

On Monday, LinkedIn made faceted search available to all members.  This effort brought to fruition efforts that date back to 2007 to completely rearchitect and redesign the LinkedIn search experience based on the unique characteristics of people search.

Rather than try to describe the feature here, I’ll just point to the formal LinkedIn blog post by Esteban Kozak, and embed his great youtube video on the feature:

The news coverage has been flattering:

What’s most exciting to me, however, is that these are still very early days in the development of the LinkedIn search platform.  It took LinkedIn over five years to amass its first billion queries.  This year alone, LinkedIn will exceed that number by a wide margin.  People search requires unique investments in structured data, relationship information, search intelligence, and personalized relevance.  (If you’re curious, the Boolean Black Belt got a sneak peak at some upcoming features).

I just wanted to take a moment to say kudos to the entire search team for this tremendous achievement that cuts across all areas – product, design, research, web development, engineering, marketing & operations.

Twitter integration, Open developer program, Faceted Search.  What a great way to launch into the holidays.

Can’t wait for January 🙂

LinkedIn Recommendations & The Reputation Economy

Last Friday, I had a chance to write a good, solid piece about LinkedIn Recommendations for the official LinkedIn blog.  In case you missed it, the article is here:

LinkedIn Blog: LinkedIn Recommendations & The Reputation Economy

I spent a good bit of time on this post, and even took a half hour to discuss some of the fundamental driving concepts behind it with Reid Hoffman, to help stitch together my thoughts with some of the underlying premises behind LinkedIn.  I’m pretty happy with the result.

Here’s a quick snippet:

Whether or not we realize it, we all live and work in a networked world.  Reputations matter.  Relationships matter.  Information is bombarding us from a rapidly swelling variety of sources, with increasing frequency and variability in terms of quality.  Interestingly, people are managing this incredible increase in complexity with habits and business practices that date back decades, if not centuries.

They consider the source.  They consider the context.

Fortunately, in the 21st century, with the birth of the social web, we have tools at our disposal that are orders of magnitude more powerful than we have ever had as individuals or as a society.  To quote David Weinberger from his recent talk at PDF09, Transparency is the New Objectivity:

What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

This change is, well, epochal.

David is talking about journalism, but his insights are at the heart of why LinkedIn is such a powerful concept.  On LinkedIn, the skills that you’ve spent your career obtaining, the experience that you’ve earned, the trusted relationships that you’ve formed – they are all made largely transparent.  Your professional reputation and relationships matter – and not just to you.  That value extends far beyond your profile itself – it carries over to every interaction, every message, and every piece of contributed content.

It’s always rewarding when you write a post like this to get positive feedback.  Here is a flattering quote from Neal Schaffer:

I think the most brilliant blog post to come out of reaction to Jeremiah’s is the one on the official LinkedIn Blog entitled “Recommendations and the Reputation Economy” and written by LinkedIn’s own Product Director Adam Nash.  He went further to talk about how transparency is the new objectivity and that not only are recommendations often mutual, but that requesting recommendations is absolutely normal.  In fact, he ends his post asking you to write three recommendations for people unsolicited.  Exactly!  That line could have been taken out of my upcoming book!

Normally I don’t flag every post I make to the corporate blog here on my personal site, but if you’re interested, do check out the piece.

LinkedIn for IBM Lotus Notes is Live

Kudos to the team.  LinkedIn for IBM Lotus Notes is now in beta.

LinkedIn Blog: LinkedIn Widget for IBM Lotus Notes Now Available

Quote from Ed Brill, Director of Product for Lotus Notes at IBM:

This week, IBM and LinkedIn are announcing the availability of the LinkedIn plug-in for Lotus Notes.  This easy to use add-in dynamically displays LinkedIn profile, status, and other information in the Notes 8 sidebar.  The new plug-in is a great example of “contextual collaboration” — where users access relevant information without having to leave behind what they are already working on.

Special kudos to the LinkedIn LED Team, and to Elliot Shmukler for this big win.

In fact, the only thing I find a tad disappointing is the lack of a new Elliot blooper reel for this launch.  As a consolation, I’ll link to the old one from 2008 here.

Embrace the Minimum Necessary Change (MNC)

In keeping with my theme this week of blogging observations, this one ties together a basic tenet that I learned from science fiction in my pre-teen years, and applies it to product management.

The concept is borrowed from “The End of Eternity“, one of the classic science fiction novels from Isaac Asimov.  The book imagines a future with time travel, and the guidelines that govern its use:

There is a group of people (only males) who are called The Eternals. They live outside of ordinary time and space in a man-made construct called Eternity. The Eternals can move back and forth between Eternity and Earth, entering into any time period of Earth’s history. Their mission is to make Reality Changes, changes in the course of human history that will result in an improved Reality. They try to do this with the help of computers that can predict how even subtle changes will alter Reality. There is an art to finding the minimal intervention that will result in a desired Reality Change. There is a special change called “The Minimum Necessary Change“.

I’ve been surprised over the years how often I find myself using this concept, the “minimum necessary change”, to help frame potential solutions to problems.

In some ways, it’s a fairly obvious outcome of a scientific education.  Occam’s razor demands that, all things being equal, we bias towards the simplest explanation.  It’s not a far stretch to morph that concept into a bias towards the simplest solution to a given problem.

Seasoned product managers are also familiar with another, related concept, the “minimally viable product”.  The MVP, of course, is the minimal number of features necessary for a product to be successful at achieving it’s business & product goals.

Today, at LinkedIn, I was in a fairly intense meeting discussing potential solutions for a product that we’re trying to roll out in the next few weeks.  A fairly significant issue has arisen, and the team has been debating solutions.

It’s very easy for product managers and engineers to sometimes get caught up in “redesign fever”.  An unexpected issue or constraint arises that wasn’t expected.  Immediately, smart people will retrace their steps back to the beginning, and imagine a radical new design for their product that incorporates that new issue.  The problem is, there are always new issues.  There are always unexpected constraints.  Redesign fever can and will prevent products from converging, and prevent teams from shipping.

I’ve found that the best way to resolve these types of issues is to clearly define the problem, brainstorm potential solutions, and then way the pros/cons of each.  Not rocket science.

However, make sure as part of the exercise that the “Minimum Necessary Change” is one of the solutions that is part of the decision set.  It helps frame the costs (and benefits) of more elaborate solutions.  In fact, the intellectual pleasure of finding a simple, elegant solution to a complex problem can turn into a highlight for the entire project.

If you believe in fast iteration, in shipping product quickly and frequently to incorporate real user feedback into your designs, then more often than not you’ll find that the Minimum Necessary Change is your friend.

Guide to Product Planning: Three Feature Buckets

In the spirit of capturing some of the observations that I find myself repeating, I’m adding this one to the mix tonight.  Unlike the previous two, this is really a piece of concrete advice for product managers of consumer software or consumer internet products.  It’s also a more recent observation that I’ve formulated in the past few years.

This advice takes the form of a simple classification framework for the features that you are considering for a product, whether it’s a single “large scale” launch, or a series of product features that are planned out on a roadmap.

Place your feature concepts in one of three buckets:

  • Metrics Movers. These are features that will move your target business & product metrics significantly.  In most healthy product organizations, there are specific goals and strategies behind the decision to invest in a product or feature.  Engagement.  Growth.  Revenue.  Typically, very few features are actually metrics movers.  Know which ones they are ahead of time, because in the end, the judgment of whether your product or roadmap succeeded or failed will rest on the evaluation of the metrics.
  • Customer Requests. These are features that your customers are actively requesting.  There is no mystery here.  Listen to your customers, and know which features they want to see the most.  You don’t necessarily want to implement every suggestion, but product professionals need to listen to direct requests carefully, with humility and deep consideration.  Nothing irritates customer more that to see you roll out new features that exclude the ones that they have already identified and requested actively.
  • Customer Delight. These are features that customers haven’t necessarily asked for, but literally delight them when they see them.  Typically these are features that require several ingredients: listening to customers to understand their pain points, leveraging a knowledge of technology to know what might be possible, and innovative design to come up with an unexpectedly elegant & delightful experience.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some features that can fall in more than one bucket, but it’s a rare feature that actually falls in all three.

I’ve found that categorizing features into these buckets forces product teams to be intellectually honest with why they are implementing a certain feature.  Is it because customers want it?  Or is it because the company wants it (to move metrics)?  Or is it just cool?

For large, monolithic releases of features, optimal success comes from packaging up items from each of these buckets.  The customer requests ensure that your customers see that the time that they are investing in your products is rewarded by a provider who listens and delivers.  Your metrics movers ensure that the business and strategy you are executing on will provide the resources to invest in future iterations.  And your customer delight features highlight your ability to leverage expertise in technology & design to deliver innovative capabilities.

Conversely, if you find yourself without one of these buckets represented, it likely represents a serious hole in either your channels for customer feedback, your product execution, or your innovation capabilities.  These holes will significantly impact both your short term and long term success in this area.

Most consumer internet companies don’t ship monolithic feature redesigns often – instead they release small iterations and additions frequently.  (At LinkedIn, we release every week.)  The logic above, however, can just as easily apply to a series of 1-2 week features executed over the course of a three month roadmap as a large monolithic release.

Take a moment and consider major product releases in the consumer space that you really respect as a product professional.  I think you’ll find that these releases have all three of these buckets well represented.  (iPhone 3.0 is not a bad recent example.)

Get Ready for TEO: Twitter Event Optimization

That’s right, everyone.  A new acronym is born.

Get ready for consultants, product managers, marketing executives, and knowledgeable technorati everywhere to be talking about the most important traffic driver since… SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

That’s right, 2009 is the year of TEOTwitter Event Optimization.

The logic is simple enough.  Twitter is growing by incredible rates, and it’s inherently a high activity, highly connected distribution model.  That means that pushing out events to Twitter can help drive traffic to your application or service.

When a user pushes out a link to your content, it magnifies distribution a large number of ways:

  • The tweet/link is pushed to all of their followers (sometimes to multiple clients/locations)
  • The tweet is sometimes retweeted (at a fractional rate) to a 2nd degree of followers
  • The tweet shows up in countless Twitter searches for terms/keywords
  • The tweet is indexed in Google for natural search
  • The tweet, if hashtagged, comes up for anyone reviewing that particular topic.  (Topics on Twitter are often flagged with a # symbol.  Example: #swineflu)

One of the hardest problems that websites face is traffic generation, and I can see it in the eyes of marketing and media executives everyone.  They look at Twitter, and they see… engagement.  attention.  TRAFFIC.

And they want it.

Thus, TEO is born.  Like SEO before it, there will be a range of skillsets that will quickly be developed, and then sold to countless companies everywhere:

  • Optimizing your website to get users to issue events to Twitter (manually or automatically)
  • Optimizing the content of an event to promote click-through
  • Optimizing the content of an event to trigger retweeting (RT)
  • Optimizing the tracking of the links on Twitter for effectiveness (already happening)
  • Optimizing the landing pages of your site, so that non-members who click through from Twitter get a good experience and “convert” to direct users.
  • The list goes on…

I really haven’t seen this much collective energy around a new traffic source since Google really hit the scene in volume, and everyone realized that an alternative to paying for search advertising was to invest in optimizing your content for natural search.

It’s hard to argue that this will be good for the Twitter eco-system.  Google has fielded armies of engineers and incredibly advanced technology to help keep natural search effective.  One of the challenges Twitter will definitely face is keeping their stream relatively “clean” of manufactured content.  Whether that’s something that can be done by end users, or whether deep technology will be needed is yet to be determined.

In any case, I’m not sure if I am the first to coin the term… it’s hard to believe that with the huge buzz around Twitter that this one hasn’t been claimed already.  But, just in case you heard it here first, remember:

2009 is all about TEO

Help for the Class of 2009: LinkedIn ’09 Grad Guide

It’s a tough job market this year, particularly for newly graduating college students and graduate students.

At LinkedIn, we work every day to help professionals leverage their two most important assets, their reputation and their relationships, to make them more productive.  Getting that first full time position can be hard, so we’ve put together a new mini-site for new graduates called the ’09 Grad Guide.

Check it out, we have a version for college grads and graduate students.

Please feel free to forward to friends and family who are graduating this year.  We’re hoping it will help the hundreds of thousands of new graudates this year find their first dream job, and begin their careers.