We recently invited Reid Hoffman, founder and CEO of LinkedIn, to Yahoo!. Rather than asking Reid to give a talk at a podium, we opted for a "fireside chat" format, and I had the privilege of serving as the "chatter."
Reid's resume is almost absurd. In addition to having a lot of old school Web 1.0 cred (as an executive at PayPal), Reid is involved as an investor with just about every category-defining Web 2.0 company out there: Digg, Flickr, Facebook, Technorati. He also sits on the boards of Six Apart and Mozilla. When asked what a good investment strategy for Web 2.0 is, he responded "to invest in Web 2.0 in 2003."
The first question I asked was of the audience: "How many of you are not registered members of LinkedIn?" Of the perhaps 125 people in attendance, maybe one or two sheepishly raised their hands. This kind of penetration is typical in high-tech companies, according to Reid. LinkedIn (for the two non-LinkedIn members reading this) is a social networking site where you use your business relationships and networking capabilities for hiring, relationship building, business development, reference checks, and so on.
Given that Reid and Flickr cofounder Stewart Butterfield hold philosophy degrees (from Oxford and Cambridge, respectively), I asked Reid whether he felt this contributed to his bent for social software. (Answer, paraphrased: Philosophy helps you think, thinking is good, so — yeah, sure — it probably helped.) One of Reid’s criteria for evaluating companies is asking, "Which of the seven deadly sins does it appeal to?" (For LinkedIn, it's "greed.")
One of Reid's most interesting responses came when he was asked why, if LinkedIn was a social network, there weren't photos of the users on the site. Great question! Photos, he said, were complex in the business world. They could even lead to discrimination based on age, sex, and race, and LinkedIn didn't want to facilitate that. Reid thinks there’s a place for photos in a professional context, but LinkedIn is still figuring out the right social balance.
The event was part of a speaker series hosted by our TechDev (Technology Development) group, which is run by Caterina Fake, she of Flickr fame. The team has the broad charter of facilitating and harvesting "grass-roots innovation" within Yahoo! and the TechDev Speaker Series (one of many at Yahoo!) is designed to provoke new thinking. In addition to hosting entrepreneurs like Reid and Philip Rosedale, CEO of the company that produces the multiplayer online game Second Life, we've brought in pundits like Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of “The Long Tail”; information architect Thomas Vander Wal, who coined the term "folksonomy"; and leading academics like Judith Donath and John Maeda of MIT Media Lab. But perhaps the most fun and surprising speakers were industrial performance artist Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories, renegade mashup pioneer Mark Hosler of Negativland, and Ken Waagner, who runs digital distribution for the band Wilco.
Now that we’ve whet your appetite with some unabashed name-dropping, we'll try to get you in on the action by putting video footage of future speakers online. Whenever we get permission from these visitors, we'll put the files up on Yahoo! Video. It will be way cool. Stay tuned.
Vice President of Product Strategy