Mike Isaac

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Reid Hoffman: Losing Twitter Made LinkedIn Better

When LinkedIn’s tweet-sharing partnership with Twitter dissolved months ago, it looked like a major problem for LinkedIn.

But Reid Hoffman, co-founder and now executive chairman of the company, ain’t trippin’.

“We were initially trying pretty hard to keep the relationship with Twitter,” Hoffman said, because “we were concerned about the liquidity of the stream.” That is, Hoffman and company could have been left up a creek without Twitter, considering most of the content flowing through users’ LinkedIn streams was made up of their Twitter accounts.

Hoffman’s tale, three months on, is a different tune entirely. “When Twitter cut us off, we got better, business-focused conversation,” he said onstage at the TechCrunch: Disrupt technology conference in San Francisco. “From a LinkedIn perspective, it improved the product to lose the Twitter connection.”

In a nutshell: Whatever, Twitter. LinkedIn doesn’t need you.

Quite the about-face, considering the strong relationship between the two companies over the two-and-a-half-year span they were together. As Twitter contained far more content flowing through the system than LinkedIn users provided, the partnership certainly seemed to make sense for LinkedIn and in theory for Twitter as well, as a source of new referrals.

Alas, as I’ve been told by sources in the past, LinkedIn was really the only one benefiting from the partnership. Twitter didn’t see any major boosts in sign-ups coming from LinkedIn, yet LinkedIn was able to parlay the wealth of Twitter data into launching the LinkedIn Today product, a highly trafficked portion of the site where users see the day’s top news stories from around the Web. Tweets fueled the social news service, boosting the Today product’s rapid ascent.

But as a LinkedIn spokeswoman told me then: “Tweets have not been powering LinkedIn Today for some time.”

So in essence, LinkedIn got what it needed from Twitter — tons of free content flowing through the network for years. Now that LinkedIn is on its feet and riding high with its existing products, however, the loss isn’t as big a deal as it may have once seemed (or at least so Hoffman says).

However, the LinkedIn cutoff was a big deal for another reason: It signaled the end of Twitter playing nice with its ecosystem of partners and third-party developers, instead setting more strict guidelines on how others could use tweets in their products and services. The technology world as a whole has largely been up in arms over it, citing Twitter’s about-face as too harsh to the engineers and people who made Twitter into the great service it is today.

Hoffman had choice words on that issue, too, albeit slightly more politic than others in the Valley: “It was partial bullshit, not total bullshit.”

That is to say, Twitter’s moves toward better controlling its ecosystem are to be expected — after all, the company must focus on monetizing as it matures, and it has a fiduciary responsibility to its investors to do so.

On the other hand, the mom-and-pop developer outfits who have based their livelihoods on the platform now find themselves in the lurch. And Twitter has been slow to clarify how its new developer guidelines would affect its third-party network, further fueling the fire of confusion and techie outcry.

Whatever the case, LinkedIn seems to have come out ahead in the ordeal: The company’s product portfolio remains solid, with its user base growing steadily. And of all the tech IPOs in the past year, LinkedIn has fared quite well: The company’s shares have more than doubled over the past 52 weeks.

In other words: We’re cool, guys. With or without Twitter’s ongoing help.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work