As the co-founder of LinkedIn, a successful venture investor, and an author, Reid Hoffman commands a lot of respect in Silicon Valley. Young startup founders don't often take him to task.
Except last week, when Jourdan Urbach, the CTO of social video platform Ocho, confronted him on stage at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen. Urbach asked Hoffman why LinkedIn's design is so unresponsive and confusing. Then things got a bit tense. Here’s Urbach's question and Hoffman’s answer:
Urbach: Linkedin is this critical utility of the Internet, and there are no real significant competitors.
Since the beginning of the Internet, there have been companies that have decided for whatever reason that they are going to stay the course with the designs and product they have, as opposed to moving toward more modern standards. Companies like Craigslist, Salesforce, and Zappos all come to mind as companies whose interfaces belie exactly how important their businesses are. Does the decision continue to be at LinkedIn to have one of the least responsive, most confusing interfaces on the public Internet—
[Hoffman takes a sharp breath.]
Urbach: No, I’m completely serious, nobody would disagree with that. It is.
Hoffman: Well I would disagree with that. And I’m somebody other than nobody, but yes, that’s okay, keep going.
Urbach: Is that a tactical decision—
Urbach: ...just like it was for Craigslist to continue to just use blue hyperlinks because that was the best way for them to communicate with people, and for Zappos to have a cluttered interface, because it was strategic?
Hoffman: The simple answer is no, and the simple answer is we’re working on it, and I’ll take the next question.
Hoffman: Look, we work on it, we may work on it slower than we should. I think some people find it very confusing. That’s absolutely the case and there’s definitely more work we can do. There’s also people who work on it every day and actually, in fact, know how to do it. And we have a lot of complicated functionalities. So it's not just uploading a picture hitting a “like.”
Moderator: But you’re not rejecting his question out of hand?
Hoffman: No, no. We got a lot of work to do, we got to improve, but it’s, you know, it was like, okay, so look, we got a lot of work to do. His question was its own answer.
Moderator: Well, it was interesting with Craigslist. He wanted to know if, for some reason, are you keeping it bad for…
Hoffman: No. The answer to that is no.
Watch the full video below. The question from Urbach starts at 23:30.