UPDATE (8/20/15): Asterisks is now live on the Chrome Store
Have you ever shared your Netflix account with a friend or colleague so they could binge watch a show? Or been concerned about sharing and borrowing paid internet services with friends (e.g. Hulu, New York Times, etc.) because you’re uncomfortable sharing your passwords and usernames? Maybe you’ve wished there was an easier way to trial services before committing to buying.
So have we. That’s why our team developed a way to share accounts among groups of friends without having to share your login information. Allow me to backtrack to where it all began.
This GroupMe message to all the LinkedIn interns is where the story begins. Christian’s team was in search of a designer for LinkedIn’s upcoming Intern Hackday in July. The event took place at LinkedIn’s Mountain View campus where over 220 interns from companies around the Bay including Facebook, Google, and Twitter gathered to build out crazy and cool ideas. With a passion for design and without a crew, I decided to reach out to Christian to join his team, and I’m glad I did. Over the 24 hours of Hackday I got to know the quirky personalities and incredible talents of my teammates (Christian Mathiesen, Fernando Trujano, George Lok, and Clement Fung) who also happened to share an apartment together. Between the five of us, we had a pretty good balance of skills and expertise, which helped us to divide and conquer. In the month or so leading up to Hackday, the four roommates had been brainstorming potential hacks after work. Which brings us back to…
I officially met the team and was brought up to speed three hours before Hackday began. The concept was simple and intriguing:
Airbnb for Internet Accounts
People who had travel plans or were not going to be using their Netflix, HBO, New York Times or other paid subscription services would be able to rent them out in order to make some cash. We were happy with the idea, and had several ideas on how to approach the problem from a technical standpoint.
However, with our Hackday resources, constraints, and personnel in mind, we continued to brainstorm other variations as well. After a few constructive debates, we agreed on a slight twist to the idea:
Borrow and share Internet accounts without sharing credentials
With money and payments off the table for now, we were able to focus on solving a specific problem that was close to home for both us and many millennials across the country. Our surveys showed that most people were uncomfortable disclosing their login information, even to their friends. Sharing these credentials can be a security risk, as many people reuse the same password for many sites and services. Furthermore, there is no way for someone sharing an account to know who is using his or her account and when, or to prevent friends from further sharing the account with others. But mostly, nobody likes to login to Netflix to find that all of their streams are already in use 😞
We gathered around the whiteboard to determine what features were critical to our Minimum-Viable Product (MVP) and how we would build this system. Then we joined the rest of the teams in the LinkedIn cafeteria as the official start of Hackday was announced. It was time to start building.
We decided to build our service as a self-contained Chrome extension. We believe a Chrome extension makes for the best user experience since it can smartly target users in-browser and automatically manage services based on the sites they are visiting. After adding personal accounts and services to our extension, users can safely share their accounts with friends as well as browse available services from their network. This method allows the person lending their account to retain complete control over who can use his or her accounts and when, without ever sharing a user name or password. Account owners can even log friends out of their accounts mid session if they’d like.
We stayed up all night building out our demo and deck, and by time the sun came up we had taken care of most of the major functionality. We squashed a couple bugs and began practicing our demo and pitch. The first round of demos began, and we were on deck to present. One minute before we took the stage, we discovered that we had accidentally nuked our database. That is, we deleted all of our existing demoable services. Trying our best not to panic, I took the stage and began to present our deck. Behind the scenes, Clement calmly tried to resolve the situation. It turns out Fernando had finished implementing a way to add services through our front-end, but it was untested. It was the only chance we had, so Clement gave it a shot. It worked. The services were added only moments before I finished our pitch and the team began our demo. It was a close call, but luckily the demo worked as planned.
After the first round of forty plus teams wrapped up, we were happy to find out we were among the 12 teams selected to move on to the finals. The remaining teams presented to the Final Round Judges: Akshay Kothari, Matt Huang, and James Beshara. There was a wide variety of hacks presented, from websites to help students discover career paths, to iPhone space-blasters that granted in-game abilities based off one’s LinkedIn skills, education, and connections. After deliberation, the judges announced the top five teams which also included:
Wavelength — An Android app to help you and friends collaboratively discover and listen to music
BiaSees — An iPhone app that helps combat gender inequalities in job postings by removing language that discourages either gender from applying
LAP — A website that helps prisoners reintegrate into society upon release
Broom — A fast, easy, and secure way to video conference with anyone
Overall, LinkedIn’s Intern Hackday was an incredible experience. Our team would like to thank everyone involved in putting on the event. From human bowling to midnight food trucks, it is clear that a ton of effort was put into creating a great environment for hacking, and it really showed through in the quality of all the final projects.
We were blown away by the amount of people who’ve reached out to us saying they would love to use our service, many even volunteering to beta test. Given the enthusiastic response, we have decided to continue developing the project. The service is now called Asterisks (inspired by password fields), and we are working nights and weekends to ship a closed beta this month.
We believe there is potential here for Asterisks to help streaming services and content providers by getting new users hooked on their content through our lightweight, frictionless free trials and ultimately converting them into paid users of these services.