#57 Daniel Roth

James Altucher interviewed Daniel Roth, executive editor of LinkedIn to talk about, well, LinkedIn. Before my notes, let me say that I’m not active on LinkedIn because in 2008 I bought a house from someone who after the sale, connected on LinkedIn to highly recommend me. While I appreciated the compliment it hinted that the site was mostly bunk. After listening to Altucher and Roth, it seems like LinkedIn has gotten better, and these posts may end up there soon.

After the opening pleasantries, Roth talks about how Altucher had “one of the fastest” rises to the top to become a LinkedIn influencer. That group of influencers includes people like Kevin O’Leary, Farhad Manjoo, and Suze Orman. Altucher sounds like he appreciates this and comments on how some posts on LinkedIn do much better than others, each medium – even Medium – seems to have its own niche.

Roth suggests that an advantage of LinkedIn is that they can see the consistent things people come to LinkedIn for. Anything about technology, where the world is going, management, leadership, how to further your own career and make them better at what they want to do are veins best served by the LinkedIn content.

Altucher mentions that people got “massively demoted” in 2009 and that he sees why those ideas are the most popular. This political season has brought the great demotion to light in my state, Ohio. Governor Ted Kasich is trying to get re-elected and one of his ads proclaims he added 244,000 jobs in the state since he took over as governor. His opponents says that in that figure is a lot of minimum wage work.

Economist Tyler Cowen thinks that this is the direction things will go. In Average is Over Cowen proposes a divergence where there will be more have-nots but also more haves. Cowen argues that the new economy will mean that some people can capitalize on hard work, intelligence, and persistence – Altucher might call them the Choose Yourselfers – while other people won’t. These latter people, ones that might have been looking for the steady factory job that paid well, will find that those jobs are gone and have to work in a more structured environment for less than they had before. Cowen is one of the most thoughtful people I read online, take a listen to him in this 2013 interview about Average is Over.

Back to the podcast with Altucher, Roth says that when they started the Influencer program in 2012, the most popular articles were those about how to get a job and how to quit your job. This played out in the LinkedIn data and not just the posts.

Altucher asks about this data LinkedIn collects and while Roth doesn’t expound on it, he does say there are algorithms at work.  I don’t know what LinkedIn collects from people, but whatever it is, it will say a lot about you. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder writes that being a data scientist today like being a chemist. Mix these two variables and see what you get. In his book, Rudder gives examples of the different things data scientists can predict with some degree of confidence, like what Egyptian towns will be most upset by border incidents with Israel, whether or not you are gay based on your Facebook friends, and the spread of the seasonal flu. When we search for “homemade chicken soup” that goes into an algorithm at Google along with some other ingredients and predicts the spread of the flu quite well. (Good broth is the key by the way). Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, are all tracking their users, and often this means a better experience. Roth says that he hopes each article you see on LinkedIn is one you enjoy.

The LinkedIn Influencer program launched with a 150 people to start; Richard Branson, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama among them. “Richard Branson is to business what Leonardo Dicaprio is to entertainment.” Roth says. Later in the interview the pair mention T. Boone Pickens and J.T. O’Donnell as being some of the better current Influencers. Branson alone is a fascinating figure, and if you’re interested in his story at all, check out  Losing My Virginity.

Roth says that a key to LinkedIn’s success is that the site has remained focused on the professional connections that people want to have. It’s not a dating site, it’s not an SEO orgy, it’s professional stuff. That stuff though, is going to be tailored to you by their algorithm. This is the information people seem to want, but that we need to remember how it’s cultivated to you. Seeing different stories through the same frame will likely make you more dogmatic toward particular issues and might lead to a bit of fragility. Nassim Taleb writes in  Antifragile that the news media needs to fill a page – or 20 articles – each day regardless of their importance. If LinkedIn serves you the same number each day, keep in mind that some of those will be more signal than noise.

Later in the interview Roth tells the story of how they got Romney and Obama to write articles. It turns out that Obama’s team was completely disinterested in getting involved so the LinkedIn people turned to Romney’s team and he was in, then “five minutes later” Obama’s team called and said they were in too.

Altucher mentions his article, 10 Reasons You Have To Quit Your Job in 2014, and said that half the people liked it and half the people hated it, this polarizing nature probably made more people tell their friends about it. In Dataclysm, Christian Rudder applied this idea to attractiveness. The essence of online dating is looking at the person’s picture and then going on a date with them to see if you like them (though Rudder argues maybe the picture isn’t quite as important as we may think*). OKCupid had a lot of data so Rudder asked himself, what if a woman averaged a rating of 3 on a 1-5 scale? Being a ‘3’ could happen different ways, a woman could be a 3 because every rating was exactly a 3, while another could be a 3 because half the ratings were 1 and the other half 5. It turns out that for the latter, the woman who have the people love and half the people hate, will get 70% more messages. Later in the interview Altucher ponders how LinkedIn might serve as a dating site but Rudder’s data suggest that people don’t like their dating profiles mixed with other network ones.

One piece of advice Altucher has is to write about the field you are in. He says, “If I was a lawyer I would everyday take a question I was asked in the past week by one of my clients and write the full answer for free and put it on LinkedIn.”  Roth adds, that people want a post about you, not something thin. It’s not anonymous. “You have to talk about yourself, people love hearing about your mistakes.”

Later on Altucher says, “I don’t really listen to podcasts.” If you’re reading this, you probably like at least some of them; a few of my recent favorites are; Freakonomics, Planet Money, You Are Not So Smart, and Working had an incredible episode about Stephen Colbert.

Altucher asks Roth if LinkedIn could be a podcast network. Roth somewhat declines, saying that the site looks at what people are linking to and making sure they deliver good headlines to the right people. Roth says that of the 20 articles you see upon logging in, that 19 of them should be interesting to you. Roth says that his goal is that “You don’t start your day without using LinkedIn.”

Toward the end of the interview, Altucher starts churning out ideas and Roth is a bit taken aback by the torrent of things to-do, and mentions that it’s a challenge to pick the best ideas. This concept is opportunity cost, and it’s a pervasive situation.

Throughout the interview Roth and Altucher talk about things on LinkedIn, but to find some of those things for links here was impossible. Shark Tank Week never came up when I searched on LinkedIn or a Google search on the site. Ditto for their conversation about a butler sharing his experiences. If you know where any of these are, please let me know in the comments.

Altucher teased that he has another Shark Tank judge coming up on the podcast. That’ll bring the number to 3, because Mark Cuban has been a guest, so has Kevin Harrington.

Let me know what I missed and you liked, here or on Twitter, @MikeDariano.

* OKCupid ran an experiment where they jumbled the faces of possible connections in what they called, the Blind Date experiment. For a few hours on a single day this was the only way to make connections and some people tested the service and reported their connections as being about the same as the non-blind date ones they had. This brings up the point, if love isn’t yet blind, maybe it should be.

**This is one of a handful of posts that have already been published but needed migrated to a new blogging structure.

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