Reddit, the online bulletin board, calls itself the front page of the Internet. If that’s true, than the Ask Me Anything subreddit is the society page — the place where famous people answer the public’s questions (and inevitably say weird things and occasionally make fools of themselves).
But while the most popular Ask Me Anything’s tend to focus on famous television scientists, actors from shows featuring dragons, and the leader of the free world, there are many business types who’ve taken to their keyboards to answer questions from Redditors as well. This afternoon, former Microsoft CEO and current Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer fielded questions. Here’s 10 of the best Ask Me Anything sessions from people in the wonderful world of business:
Bill Gates, Microsoft
This is one businessman who actually does rank high the list of most popular AMAs of all time — number three, in fact. The former Microsoft CEO has done two AMAs, but his most recent, from February 2014, is the most popular. A few of the facts we learned about the billionaire include that he loves playing bridge and that he thinks he would have been a physicist had he not founded Microsoft.
Perhaps the most telling answer he’s given, though, was actually in the first AMA he did last year. When asked what should be changed in the world but can’t be done with money, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair said “It would be nice if all governments were as rational as the Nordic governments – reaching compromise and providing services broadly. The Economist had a nice special section on this last week. Africa governments have often been weak but you can’t write a check to change that.”
This name may not be as immediately recognizable to the general public, but he is the reason you can read this article — Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, and he stopped by Reddit to chat earlier this year. One Redditor asked him what other names he considered for the WWW, and he listed Mine of Information, The Information Mine and The Mesh.
When asked about what the future of the web would look like, he said: “It is up to us. It is an artificial creation, as are our laws, and our constitutions … we can choose how they work. We can make new ones. Our choice. “
Brian Krzanich, Intel
One thing differentiates this AMA from some others from politicians and corporate leaders — it is, at times, brutally honest (and honestly, brutal.) When asked how Intel missed out on the booming tablet market in his session in early 2014, Krzanich answered that “we wanted the world of computing to stop at PC’s…and the world.. as it never does… didn’t stop innovating.”
He also took on commenters claiming that Intel doesn’t take security seriously in light of the NSA scandal, saying the following: “First, let me be clear that Intel doesn’t participate in the NSA programs described in recent news reports. Intel does not participate in anyone’s efforts to decrease security in technology. We don’t provide methods for unauthorized access to our products….we don’t create back doors.”
Emmet Shear, Twitch
This is another CEO who has done a few AMA sessions, but the most recent was three months ago — just before the video game streaming company was bought by Amazon. The deal rumors were heating up, so this was technically an AMAA — Ask Me Almost Anything — because Shear made it clear he couldn’t comment on acquisition rumors.
Some of what he did talk about, though, was almost as interesting. Some users didn’t like his answer to why Twitch streamed a concert from musical artist Steve Aoki, which had nothing to do with gaming, claiming it was clearly just a money grab.
“We secured the licensing for something we thought that the community would like as a test,” Shear responded. “Aoki is a huge gamer and popular with Twitch, so we thought it would be a fun thing to do for everyone. Based on the community response, it looks like people enjoyed it.”
The most interesting part of this AMA was the hostility shown toward Shear by the public— many of his answers barely showed up in the main conversation because they were down-voted, ie. given a bad review. Redditors can be fickle, for sure, but most AMAs don’t get nearly this hostile.
Here we have another techie AMA. Bob Metcalfe, who co-invented Ethernet, has done two AMAs, most recently earlier this year. One interesting anecdote he shared? The reason he decided to call it “Ethernet”: “The luminiferous “ether” was an omnipresent passive medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves.”
In his first AMA, he was also remarkably frank when talking about what good he thinks has come from the Internet: “The Internet reduces market frictions and expands freedom of choice. I give the Internet credit for everything good that has happened since 1969.”
Jeremy Stoppleman, Yelp
Let’s face it, there is one question this CEO was ALWAYS going to get if he participated in an AMA — how accurate are Yelp’s reviews, and do companies pay for good reviews? He did answer, though not to the satisfaction of some posters.
“Certainly shady businesses or ‘reputation management’ firms do sometimes try to buy reviews,” Stoppleman said. “However we are constantly pursuing them with our own undercover sting operations. When we find businesses guilty of trying to purchase reviews we warn consumers by posting a consumer alert on their page and revealing the evidence.”
This was another less-than-friendly crowd. Lots of expletives were tossed at Stoppleman and Yelp, and there was a lot of dissatisfaction about the questions he wasn’t answering, namely if Yelp told businesses that they would remove bad reviews in exchange for payment.
Russell Simmons, Def Jam
The hip-hop mogul took to Reddit in 2014 and answered questions about politics, business and music. He said he was still working on his efforts to get money out of politics, and that he loved going on r/hiphopheads, one of Reddits popular hip-hop subreddits.
Simmons also talked about some of the hardest times he had when he was starting Def Jam Records.
“Shipping records into a black hole where nobody would pay us. my experiences taught me about failure and quitting and I learned that there are no failures, only quitters,” he said. “I see lots of digital stars who come to ADD having spent years building their base, who would never veer from their vision and that’s inspiring.”
Simmons was asked about the future of the music industry, and he said that he thinks major labels can still be relevant moving forward, as long as they innovate.
Ah, the Winklevi. The two twins gained notoriety for claiming that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea in creating Facebook – and won a settlement. But only one of them was present for this AMA earlier this year. And, ostensibly, it was to talk about Bitcoin, an areas in which they invest. But come on. We all know what people wanted to know — how accurate was The Social Network, the hit movie loosely based on Facebook’s origins?
Alas, Cameron Winklevoss didn’t get into it, though he did admit that he has a Facebook account. He also said he hadn’t sold any of his Bitcoins, that he was only holding and using them, not trading. And he acknowledged that those at home couldn’t tell for sure that he wasn’t actually his brother Tyler.
And yes, the thread was full of users quoting The Social Network.
Matt Mullenweg, WordPress
The co-founder of the content management system running the site you are currently reading did his AMA last year, and talked a lot about the impact of his company has had on the Internet.
He said that his favorite thing about WordPress is “when people I admire use it, from Jay Z to Zeldman. In many ways what we do like a canvas, and it’s a huge honor to see the creativity and beauty people bring to it.”
Mullenweg also discussed some of the things he’d like to change about WordPress, if he could:
“If backwards compatibility wasn’t a concern I would rename all the inconsistent column names and variables to match our style guide, drop TinyMCE, simplify the user roles and capabilities system, replace widgets with page blocks, redo the admin menu system, denormalize the DB, flatten dependencies and deep hierarchy in function execution, and completely reorganize the code so the bare minimum of files are included with any given request.”
Ben Cohen, Ben and Jerry's
The ice cream man! The co-founder of the popular brand did his AMA in 2013, and yes, he said his favorite flavor — it’s Cherry Garcia. And he likes chocolate dipped waffle cones and hot fudge.
He also said the following about how he and his company try to be eco-concious:
“Just being a decent guy. Regular people don’t want to screw other people, and as a business, Jerry and I didn’t want to screw other people. The way to not screw other people is to have your products Fair Traded.”