What does Linkedin really mean to Microsoft?

Microsoft has stirred up a swirling buzz of discussion around the Linkedin acquisition for $26.2 billion. There are a number of angles that have been considered in the gazillion news stories floating around. Here’s a few of those threads:

  • Linkedin is a Salesforce counter by Satya Nadella — It has been argued by Steve Nellis and others that Linkedin’s efforts at developing and selling the tools in the company’s Sales Solutions unit have not gone very far, but the data in Linkedin’s network — when coupled with Microsoft’s own Salesforce competitor — Dynamics — could become a real player. Note that Nadella’s rumored efforts to acquire Salesforce stalled because of a too-high price tag (10X revenues), while Linkedin was much more affordable (7X revenues). Plus, with Linkedin in there are other angles to play.
  • Linkedin is a professional social network, and could counter Facebook for Business — Facebook has not yet released its business variant, Facebook for Business, but it’s supposed to roll out this year. Nadella might be trying to get there first by offering a fusion of Linkedin’s current mix of blogging, social networking, and recruitment use cases with Office 365 productivity options. Linking together the professional graph (Linkedin) with the work graph (Office 365)– as Nadella talked about in a call with the NY Times — and getting a premium on the integration of the two is probably a smart move so long as the seams can be made low friction. There is a devil in these details, but this is one of the most powerful visions for the merger.
  • Linkedin alone was a company with real problems — Linkedin stock got hammered earlier this year after lowered sales estimates. This would be bad in itself but doubly bad for Linkedin, since many of its best and brightest are compensated in part by stock grants, so when the stock falls, so does compensation. As a result, Linkedin was facing a mass exodus unless they could right the boat. This is one of the reasons Microsoft got the terms that it did. And now, people will be compensated in the more standard Microsoft way (as will the accounting for these expenses, which were clouded by non-GAAP practices).
  • Microsoft sees Linkedin as a way to deflect Slack — Personally, I don’t buy this conflation of threats to Microsoft. Yes, Slack is making huge inroads in work technology — specifically as the defining product in the exploding work chat space — but just because is has some of the features of a ‘social network’ (in that people are logged in for long periods of time each day, message each other, can coordinate outside of company boundaries) that doesn’t mean Slack and Linkedin are in some way head-to-head competitors. Yes, Slack is a competitor to Microsoft’s productivity/work technology products — most specifically Yammer, but also the core functionality slowly growing in Office 365 — but that doesn’t mean that Linkedin is intended as a Slack killer. Although Microsoft should be working on that, as well. I just don’t expect it will come from the Linkedin side of things.

After all the dust settles I expect that we’ll see a reoriented Linkedin, with a greater focus on CRM technologies and networking, and also a much enlarged focus on people operations (HR) technologies and networking, an area that Microsoft has functionally no offerings. This will take the form of enlarged platforms, and an ecology of partners building on Microsoft/Linkedin capabilities, as well as other, subsequent acquisitions. And Linkedin will immediately find its operational core — and culture — pulled toward CRM and HR by the Microsoft sales operation.
I also don’t believe that Jeff Weiner will be at Microsoft for longer than his required tenure, two years or whatever it is, and Kara Swisher agrees. More likely he will find new worlds to conquer, and Satya will find someone in Microsoft or Linkedin who will better execute what will rapidly become an integration strategy, rather than a trailblazing one.

LinkedIn expands Lynda.com to Roku with new learning channel

LinkedIn is expanding its Lynda.com platform to Roku devices, and in doing so it might prove streaming video services can be more than mindless entertainment.
First some background. LinkedIn spent $1.5 billion to buy Lynda.com in April. The platform boasts more than 4,000 courses featuring 150,000 videos made by expert instructors, and despite an emphasis on high production values, LinkedIn said in an email that it’s adding more lessons to the platform every single day.

A shot of Lynda's new channel on Roku set-top boxes.

A shot of Lynda’s new channel on Roku set-top boxes.


The app available on Roku devices will provide access to all of these videos. It will even synchronize a user’s position in various lessons across devices, so they don’t have to worry about losing their place if they move from a TV to a laptop. The catch: Most videos are exclusive to members who pay $20 to $35 per month.
“Our goal is to extend the Lynda.com footprint and create a new channel for users to engage with our content, while providing a consistent and seamless experience across multiple screens,” a LinkedIn spokesperson said. “Now you or your family members can learn new skills from the comfort of your couch.”
Or they could do something cheaper. They could get access to countless movies and television shows from Netflix for $10. They could watch commercial-free television on Hulu for $12. Hell, they could even get access to HBO’s original programming and videos unavailable on other streaming services for just $15.
Compare that to the $25 a single month of Lynda.com access costs — the lower $20 price is for people who pay for the service annually instead of monthly — and it’s easy to see where a budget-conscious person might choose to spend their money. How’s education supposed to compete with endless entertainment?
There are some real benefits to having an app available for set-top boxes, prime among them is the ability to follow along with a lesson on a laptop without having to switch between multiple windows. It could also help more people learn about a skill in a group setting instead of being an otherwise individual activity.
Existing subscribers to Lynda.com might rejoice at being able to view the platform’s lessons on television sets. But with a monthly fee that could cover two other streaming services (almost three for Lynda.com’s premium members) it’s hard to see the Roku expansion getting more people to sign up to the platform.
That might change if Lynda.com’s subscriptions ever fall in price. Until then, however, it looks like the mindless entertainers are going to remain undefeated.

For tech companies, tis the season for cleaning house & killing apps

Now is the winter of tech companies’ discontent. By that I mean December is fast becoming the time of the year for tech companies to shutter apps and services that haven’t quite made their mark.
Most recently, LinkedIn has decided to fully discontinue its Pulse News reader application, which it first acquired back in 2013, on December 31. The move isn’t very surprising, considering that the company launched a completely overhauled version of Pulse (officially called LinkedIn Pulse) back in September that doesn’t look much at all like the old service.
Need more evidence that December is the month of cleaning? Well, it started with Dropbox’s announcement that it’s going to pull the plug on its Mailbox and Carousel apps. That revelation is supposed to help the company focus on collaboration features, like the business-focused Paper service, and finally give it the evidence it needs to prove that it’s more than just a feature.
Then it continued with Facebook shuttering its Creative Labs, which gave the company’s workers an outlet for their creative energies. (Or at least their desire to work on something tangential to the jolly blue giant — the products were mostly rip-offs.) The company also pulled all the Labs’ output from app stores.
Mozilla joined in the action earlier this afternoon. The company plans to stop developing and selling devices featuring its Firefox OS, which was designed to offer a cheaper, more open mobile platform. It also plans to “disentangle the technical infrastructure” of its Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client.
Soon it will lead to even more abandoned products. Oyster’s planning to “sunset” its all-you-can-read book service in January 2016 after much of its team was hired to work at Google. Outerwall, makers of DVD rental kiosks Redbox, isn’t getting killed — but as of today its stock certainly is after the company confirmed that business is way down. And while AOL’s dial-up (aka “membership”) business is still around, many of the folks employed to run that portion of the company were just “gifted” pink slips. Though it technically happened last month, Rdio finally threw in the towel, too.
At this point it wouldn’t be a surprise if even more products disappear. Blogger? AOL Instant Messenger? Facebook Paper? Yahoo News Digest? Chances are that most of us won’t even be able to think of the apps most likely to be put down: The problem with most of these services is that they’ve already been forgotten by so many people.

LinkedIn puts Slack in its crosshairs with updated messaging platform

 
LinkedIn is either suffering a mid-life crisis or experiencing a renaissance.
The company has traditionally focused on helping workers further their careers by transforming all of their acquaintances into potential “connections” that can endorse any of their skills or simply become another notch in their digital belts. It has also tried to become a content hub for these same professionals by acquiring the Pulse news startup and working on content marketing tools.
Now an update to the company’s messaging system, which previously looked like an email client from the ’90s, makes LinkedIn seem more like a place where people can have meaningful conversations instead of meaningless connections. The update is pretty standard stuff. In addition to sporting a new chat-like interface, the new messages can also support animated GIFs and stickers. LinkedIn, much like its middle-aged user base, is catching up to the times.
It’s also responding to the popularity of Slack and similar tools which allow workers to communicate with their colleagues — and, in the process, it’s shifting from a glorified contacts list to a bona fide social communications service.
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Today’s update to LinkedIn’s messages isn’t the only change of its sort the company has made recently. It also released a new application called LinkedIn Lookup last month to make it easier for people to find information about or contact their co-workers. In a blog post announcing the new app, LinkedIn said that it was created after 46 percent of respondents to an 814-person survey said they use the service to learn more about their colleagues. So it made an app to make that even easier, and now it’s updated its messaging service to help people communicate better.
It seems like the company is starting to shift its focus, if only a little bit. Instead of forming links people can use to reach new heights in their careers, LinkedIn is encouraging people to actually — get this — talk to the people in their circles.
This is similar to the change happening at Twitter, which recently updated its direct messaging feature and gave celebrities a sneak preview of new photo-and video-editing tools. Both updates appear to be meant to help Twitter combat the growth of one-to-one communication services like Snapchat or WhatsApp.
Now it’s LinkedIn’s turn to make some changes. Like Twitter, it used to focus mostly on external communications, whether it was sharing blog posts to a group of professionals or leveraging connections to find out about new jobs. These changes signal a renewed focus on internal communications. (Albeit with a more professional bent than Twitter’s focus on millennials and celebrities. Also more useful, too, apparently.)
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It makes sense for LinkedIn to make these changes. Slack has proved that there’s a demand for business-focused social networks that don’t bore their users with monotone interfaces or pre-smartphone ideas about communication. Hell, even Facebook is trying to edge Slack out of the business market, and it’s not even focused on that area. It’s no surprise LinkedIn would try the same.
From corporate ladder-climber to virtual water cooler. It looks like even the stodgiest of social networks will eventually feel compelled to take on messaging services. Now we’ll have to see if the move is brilliant or just a gamble everyone will soon ignore.

The platform-publisher race is heating up and LinkedIn is gaining

Social platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are trying hard to become publishers or to host content from media companies, but one of the platforms that has been quietly doing this for years now — and continues to grow that side of its business — is LinkedIn