Evolving LinkedIn as a true connection platform

Here are some more ideas on how LinkedIn should evolve. This probably is true for any platform that attempts to create value by bringing people together.

  • First metric that needs to be extracted is a first order mapping on what people are thinking when they are using the platform and how that translates to a series of actions. I am not talking about product personas, but a series of intents for those personas and how they go about achieving those intents with or without the aid of the platform.
  • Time to achieve my intent. The only way to get here is to narrow the focus and create an ideal experience for one user. When you have millions of users, finding that one ideal user is hard. How do you even find that person, whose experience if done right will change the story of the entire platform? But these people exist. AirBnB did an interesting thing when they asked what is the next version of their platform. They looked at Hollywood movies and tried to recreate an experience similar to what we see in movies for one of their users. Who is that user? Even if that matters very little, what is that ideal movie like experience. An ideal movie experience for linkedIn might be one of the following or something else.
    • I want to lead an entrepreneur through an entire experience of connecting with people, interviewing and raising capital.
    • I want to connect a community builder organically around finding the right people to network and building a community that truly cares about a cause.
    • I want to empower an inventor with the right resources and people to connect to, and provide tools to ship the invention.
    • I want to empower an employee to grow in her career by providing a curated learning opportunity that is customized and personal.
  • Creating custom dream like experiences take a narrow focus. From a wide (lets focus on our millions of users) perspective, we need to narrow this to one user and work with them for weeks to find the ideal dreamlike experience, and then widen the focus to identify things that we can do for everyone.

What is this dream experience for a LinkedIn user? It is a platform that can truly empower today's workforce and create tomorrow's workplace, which is going to be vastly different than what we know today.

I cannot think of a more relevant platform today that is doing a lot of irrelevant things without focussing on how tomorrow's workplace will look like. I really wish they dig deep and reinvent. We care about this and that is why we show up here everyday. Me, and millions others.

Please pick yourself up.

 

Community of product managers?

Following up from my previous post about LinkedIn Delta, I am thinking of an open source, let's make the world better model of product management. What if there is an open community of product managers, who work on product ideas for a big ideas? Ideally, you want this group to be focussed on big hairy problems (wicked problems, etc) but nothing stops the group from focussing on products that they love already and motivated to improve.

The premise is that we use a product because we find value in it.  And, we know what will make the product better. And, we can talk to our friends and people we know, who use the product to validate if our hypothesis is right. This is classic product work anyway. But the change is that we will apply our product thinking to the products we use even if we are not directly responsible to make that product better. It is 'acting like an owner' approach to the products we use. 

It is similar to open source in software, where a tribe comes together to solve a software problem. But unlike software, there is very little structure and the outcome is not tangible. And, this will be a thought exercise to begin with. But, I feel that a path will emerge out of all that thinking to either improve an existing product or create an altogether new product.

The reward model is tricky. In software open source, the reward is usually a sense of gratification, connection with community, shipping code, etc. In a product design open source model, I don't know what can be a tangible gratification. But unless we experiment with this model, we won't know.

 

The LinkedIn Delta

I love what LinkedIn stands for but I hate how they go about doing it. If I was a product person at LinkedIn, I would do the following -

1. Redesign the feed home page, to optimize discovery. I don't know if there is a strong science behind the recommended news and follow items, but it is not working. Not for me, and not for a lot of people I know. I want to see 'connection possibilities.' Connection possibility should be based on identifying people who are working on similar missions in their life. Somebody who cares about education, should be able to find similar people who care about it. 

What we are doing here is allowing each other to find the tribe they should be part of. And, facilitate a possibility of connecting with the right people based on topic and not just mutual connections.

2. LinkedIn connection model is (still) based on mutual connections. People abuse that a lot. There are random connection requests all the time and people don't know half of their connections. They are stale. It is too much work to keep that list clean. This is because the connection model is based on an agenda - of selling something today or in future. 

What if LinkedIn was a platform to collaborate and solve some real problems in the world? What if LinkedIn was a platform that built a diverse team of people with different backgrounds and skills needed to solve global problems? 

3. Some of the things the platform does are quite rudimentary and it feels to me that the people who designed it don't love their product enough.

The notifications are silly at times. Why congratulate someone for 'Current unemployed and looking for an opportunity' because they changed their status? These are simple table stakes for a serious platform.

4. I understand that money might be somewhere else. The paid platform for professionals and recruiters has more bells and whistles. I was a paid member for a while, but the benefits were not in terms of better insights, but rather around less restrictions (search capabilities, Inmail credits, etc). I didn't find a lot of value in it. 

5. Another of 'I don't understand my users and my product well' scenario is that the side panel of influencers rarely changes. Even after you follow the recommended influencers. It just sits there with a check mark. What a waste of real estate and an opportunity. Again, table stakes.

The core group of users use the platform to stay in touch with the industry. They want to connect with people who share not only similar interests but is able to offer intellectual growth. They want to connect with people who they can rally together with to solve a problem that they care about. The world can be a better place this way and LinkedIn has the chops to do it, but it is sad to see that they take an easy route to maintain the status quo.

I want to see this. I believe in the leadership and I know few excellent people there. But some gutsy experiments today will take LinkedIn to the next level. 

Some design considerations for AI

  1. We need to first develop models where we can co-exist with AI. And, the AIs can co-exist with us. I am not talking about a robot physically sitting next to us. But, we need to be aware of their presence in the form of algorithms, tools or technology. And, they should be aware of our presence by constantly remembering who they serve by aid of interacting via feedback.  
  2. Co-existence with AI is the first step to collaborating with AI. Today, people don't have a good intuitive feel for AI because it feels like magic. It is top down and driven into their lives. It's not a choice. It has to be become a choice to permeate mainstream among the long tail population. It can only become only a choice when people recognize (even at a high level) what the technology can do.
  3. No technology can work like magic. We need to change that perception. Machine learning, AI, NLP, Chatbots, etc, are more buzz words in the industry today in majority of places and people use it as leverage. But we rarely get into an intellectual conversation around what the technology can accomplish and how to design for the technology to be effective.
  4. Current designs and interaction models will fail in a world where AI co-exists among us.
  5. Collaboration with AI is key to developing better algorithms. Today, there is a fair bit of bias. The technology should become self-correcting. As it (AI in the form of product, technology, algorithm, etc) collaborates with more people, it should be able to heal its biases.
  6. Ethics are important. Most of AI algorithms operate on understanding patterns and behavior, which requires a lot of data. The data comes from its interaction with people. We should be open to sharing what data is being used for what. A healthy debate needs to happen among not just the researchers and scientists but the larger community in general,

 

Can the internet redesign itself?

We all hate Ads on a webpage. Right?

The problem is not so much the ads but how it comes in the way of consuming information. I don't mind the ads living in the corner, letting me do my job but they just don't. They are like a toddler, incessantly demanding my attention.

Ad blockers really don't help because for one, they only address the symptom but most websites are designed to optimize ad revenue and not really information consumption.

I have been dabbling a project in my head for a long time. What if the internet redesigns itself to serve the users rather than advertisers? It should be possible either via AI powered tools that are optimized not for ad impressions, but for user frustration. My multiple clicks to get somewhere after a search engine brought me to a website and endless navigation followed by a drop off is pretty close to me yelling in frustration. So, why not optimize for that.

Here is another idea. We can redesign the internet one page at a time. We can condense a webpage to its core essence and log that information somewhere. Much like Wikipedia, but for all websites. 

Internet badly needs an overhaul. It's riddled with noise, click baits, incessant ads that get in the way. I just need the content that's all. I am willing to pay for such an internet. Maybe that's where a possible innovation can happen. A gateway of some sort where I pay for clean internet. 

First scale issue

While my job is always around dealing with scale issues, I have never encountered that with my personal projects, until today.

My website went down and that makes me happy. Ironic, but true. First, I thought I had messed something up (highly likely). But it turns out that the traffic took it down and my cheap servers didn't like the load they were seeing. First scaling problem. Yeah!

It is a great feeling to build something that people find useful. But it is only a beginning. The challenge is to continue building things that people love. And, shipping and iterating. Now, my mind is flooded with ideas on how to optimize the HBR project to handle more concurrency and load and I can spend time on it because it is real now.

 

Exploring Harvard Business Review through AI

From 1956 - 2017, Harvard Business Review has published over 6500 articles (6656). And these articles cover 148 topics. Over the last few weeks I have been building bunch of tools to extract and analyze the data from HBR. In particular, I wanted to understand what are the topic trends over the years. 

Once I had extracted that bit, I noticed few interesting themes emerge across the spread of articles. I built an AI engine that extracted themes out of each of these articles. Here is the first iteration of this work.

This is a work in progress. For now, you can view the trends, click on a topic to view all the articles in that topic, and click on the themes (autogenerated by my AI engine) to explore articles further. I will add more stuff to this, but for now, enjoy this offering.

Learn and teach

Learning and teaching is a powerful cycle. There are two types of people, one who want to always learn but not teach, others who want to learn and immediately teach what they learned. Of course, there is a third kind, of people who are not interested in learning, and we are not talking about them here.

What is the point of learning without teaching? If for nothing else, teaching allows you to talk about what you learned and it can serve as a great way to validate our learning and also create discussions that will allow us to learn more. 

Teaching does not necessarily have to be through one particular medium (blogs, videos, group settings etc). It can be any medium which brings people together with various perspectives and skillsets to synthesize on the core message you are presenting. It is very powerful.

Do you have such a medium where you talk about your work? Your learnings?

Combining product mindset and engineering mindset

A product mindset asks why. An engineering mindset asks how.

'Why' should always come first followed by 'How', followed by 'Why' again. How much time do we spend on each of these buckets determines how robust and relevant our product is going to be.

Too often, we focus on the why without too much understanding on how, and we come up with a  product that is hard to implement. On the other side, if we spend too much time on the how, we fail to implement something that can provide feedback on the why.

Personally as a rule of thumb, I love to spend a week on why, looking at data and putting together quickly testable user flows and designs, and then spend few weeks on how. The aim is not to build the best product, but to validate our hypothesis. Then, come back to the why.

Combining product and engineering mindset is the key to building something that is robust and reliable.

Poking the box...faster

Have you read Seth Godin's poke the box? If you have not, you should.

The premise is simple. Take initiative. Start shipping. And, poke the box. Because when poke it, the box will poke you back. What is a box? Everything that is in front of you. 

One thing that Seth implies but does not explore is how do you poke the box faster. You have a voice. You are an initiator. You start things. You ship them. You challenge status quo. You are a unicorn in a balloon factory.

You need tools. Seth argues that by poking enough times, you will know what works and what does not which has an underlying implication on the tools that you will build along the way that helps you poke the box faster.

The tools can be craft, community, processes, data, etc. You need to be aware of what your tools are? And, the initial set of tools can play to your strengths until you find the next set.

Poke the box, but pay attention to how efficiently you can poke it. Pay attention to the tools you are using to change the world. Because, some tools will work great for you, others won't.

Shut the authority

The authority in your head tells you not to do something because someone will tell you off. It tells you not to take risks and follow the safe path because you will fit in. It tells you to always ask for permission. It tells you that your bosses are right and you should maintain status quo. It tells you not to speak up when something is wrong, because it is the way the world works.

There is an authority in your head, that is serving as a proxy to all the other authorities in the world around you. 

Shut that thing off. Ignore it. Make ruckus. Create art. Don’t give a damn to that voice. Because beneath that voice, there is another one, which is quieter. That is the voice tells you to hope, dream and change the world. Your goal should be to make that the primary voice in your head.

Intangibles

Occasionally you have to make product decisions that offer intangible values. Creating customer joy, surprises and Easter eggs, offering pleasant experiences and memorable journeys, are few of those.

Your product has to break the script time to time. Every time you break the script, you have a chance to create a memorable experience. This takes a lot of work. Using data to identify opportunities to break the script, is not something a lot of companies want to spend time on, because it does not offer tangible value. When I can use data to figure out where to best place my ad, why would I randomly provide an experience of an ad-free page? 

Intangibles are the reason people fall in love with a product. The fact that the product not just does what they expect of it but also does something surprising and personal creates a great feeling, which can be sticky. 

We are all used to stereotyping things, and a product that cannot break stereotypes from time to time is hard to fall in love with. 

Anticipation

Anticipation

Are we able to anticipate not only where the customer is today, but where they are going to be in the next two years? Are we able to anticipate what the business needs are one year from now? Are we able to anticipate whether the technology choices we are making today will position us to innovate better than competition?

How to innovate at your job

How to innovate at your job

Deadlines. Sameness. Hyper customer growth. Technical debt. Lack of cross-functional domain understanding. Fear. Necessity to ask permission. Lack of visionary leadership. Lack of market understanding. Imitating competition. Herd mentality. Needing to please. Desire for promotions and pseudo recognition. Lack of passion. And, countless more is how innovation stops.