LinkedIn Cofounder Says Startups Should Look to Harness Data

Privacy norms changing, says Reid Hoffman

Not everything needs to be social. That sentiment’s shocking enough when uttered during a Social Media Week session, but even more so when coming from LinkedIn cofounder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman, who banked $1.8 billion when the social network went public last May.

“You don’t really need to tweet your grocery list,” Hoffman said. His top feature request for Twitter, he said, would be the ability to filter tweets about friends’ coffee choices from those about important industry trends. 

Hoffman is looking to data to power that pursuit, mentioning that he called data "Web 3.0" in a talk last year. During his keynote, Hoffman urged investors and entrepreneurs to focus on how to build apps and platforms atop the data that are able to mine and apply the information. An example of that strategy is the LinkedIn Today social news aggregator, as it sifts through LinkedIn's data to deliver what users need to know to do their jobs better. “Business intelligence,” Hoffman explained.

However, examples like LinkedIn Today are ground-floor programs. Hoffman estimated that the digital industry has realized about 1 percent of data's possibilities.

With privacy concerns looming over the data conversation, Hoffman said norms around data and privacy “are definitely changing.” When DoubleClick acquired Abacus in 1999, he said, there was a general outcry over using consumers’ offline information to target online ads, a practice now “considered to be normal.”

To avoid any missteps, Hoffman said companies looking to apply data need to be transparent about their practices and ensure that those practices deliver only value to consumers. “It’s part of the reason the [privacy] boundary moves intelligently,” he said.

Lastly, Hoffman said he hopes that those in the social media industry will be able to “collectively self-navigate the right way” to remaining aligned with consumers’ privacy and minimize need for government involvement. But to avoid harmful interference from government regulators lacking “the full skill set [to understand] how to architect social systems,” the industry may have to move to create an organizing body similar to the MPAA, he said, an idea he’s been pondering for the past year.