P065: LinkedIn, Lynda and Doing the Damn Thing

In a move that had pretty much everyone in the industry nodding in agreement with its rationality and vision, LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com for about $1.5B last week. For the uninitiated, Lynda sells access to guided videos that help you learn new technologies while LinkedIn is the backbone of millions of online resumes. Now, there’s all sorts of reasons why LinkedIn would want to buy Lynda, but to me, the most compelling is the idea that Lynda unlocks a treasure trove of valuable information about LinkedIn.

Actions and Intentions

There was a great interview with Evan Sharp, the co-founder of Pinterest, that described the growing social network as a database of intentions. When a user pins, say, a chair, they are attributing a value to that particular chair. When you view a user’s pins in aggregate, you can begin to see what that person values. And when you view those values over the entire network, you can start to identify trends in particular verticals. And so Pinterest becomes an indicator of our collective taste and aspirations.

But pinning a picture of an Eames Lounge Chair is essentially a frictionless act and having that pin, those values, that taste, associated with your profile requires only your knowledge of the Eames Lounge Chair’s existence. Actually owning that object – stating definitively that this chair has value to you – would require at least $3785, plus tax and shipping. While there are certainly people in this world for whom spending thousands of dollars is practically equivalent to the click of a mouse, for the overwhelming majority the difference between those two is the difference between intention and action.

Know Thyself, Grow Thyself

Much like Pinterest, LinkedIn is fundamentally a database. But instead of extrapolating taste and aspirations, the data in LinkedIn can speak to wealth and achievement. By tracking the skills, education, internships, jobs, promotions, and social connections of millions of (yes, self-selected and predominantly white-collar) professionals, data scientists at LinkedIn should be able to identify optimal strategies for those angling to make partner or secure a corner office.

But LinkedIn is also an advertising platform, and a huge percentage of their ad inventory is dedicated to job postings. Currently, LinkedIn is in the advantageous position of knowing both the supply (how many people are on-paper qualified and at least interested in being contacted about job offers) and demand (how many open positions) for any particular job posting at any given moment. But when setting prices for those ads, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to intuit future supply levels as well? The Lynda acquisition gives them exactly that knowledge. A person completing their first Node.js course on Lynda is broadening their skill set. A person completing all seven courses and some of the 274 tutorials? That’s action instead of intention. That’s a person looking to do Node professionally, and that’s increased future supply for your programmatic ad buying algorithms.

Lynda.com is a crystal ball for LinkedIn because the time investment required by the user is so much greater than one click. This isn’t a slam on Pinterest – they’re doing just fine – but it is 1.5 billion data points that describe the value of action over inspiration.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron