Reid Hoffman, best known as LinkedIn's Chairman, is behind more social media companies than perhaps any other attendee at the Allen & Co. conference.
We sat down for a long talk on the social media landscape. Not only did he found LinkedIn, he also invested in Facebook, Zynga, Digg, Flicker, Ning, Tagged, SixApart and location-based social service Gowalla, among others. (The other social media guru Marc Andreessen, has invested in many of the same companies as Hoffman, including Facebook, and is speaking on a panel with him as well as Mark Zuckerberg tomorrow.)
Hoffman was eager to lend his entrepreneur's perspective on the economy. He's concerned about the budget crisis and Washington over-regulating. Hoffman said he wishes the government would apply a "fiscal technology," criticizing the stimulus for not focusing on entrepreneurship. He also attacked immigration policy, saying immigration done well is a positive thing for the nation's economy, and said the idea of sending away PHD-educated immigrants is absurd, as it will only drive engineering work to India.
And Hoffman had plenty to say on social media--his area of frequent investment has become increasingly important to the media and tech CEOs in Sun Valley in the four years since Hoffman was first invited to attend the conference. Hoffman says the excitement about social media was first seen as a fad and now is accepted as a way of life, though media and tech giants are still trying to figure out exactly how to monetize their investment in the new social fabric that's consuming an increasing amount of time and money.
Content on social media sites is giving traditional media a real run for its money: Zynga stealing revenue from game-makers, Facebook stealing users attention from everything else. But Hoffman doesn't think of those sites in terms of content, he thinks of it in terms of platforms and networks; the social fabric of those networks is the content.
But he is thinking about content monetization in the digital age, and he says the future is "freemium." That means a hybrid free model combined with a premium service for a fee, like Pandora's online music streaming service.
Location-based services like Foursquare are generating a lot of talk here, and Hoffman says it's a "no-brainer" that location will be increasingly important. But Hoffman is wary of Foursquare, as Twitter and Facebook integrate more of those services, saying that the company is in Act 1 and needs to figure out its Act 2. And location raises some major questions about privacy, where Hoffman sees a real risk factor.
"Openness is a lot more valuable than people think," Hoffman says, "but geolocation is one people need to think about, it can lead to a seriously negative experience." He's a firm believer people will realize that they can only benefit if a big group of people know, say, their movie preferences. But location opens a huge can of worms, creating a degree of openness that far transcends anything comparable in real life. And that disconnect between the virtual and real world can create both annoying situations and dangerous ones and needs to be approached carefully.
Hoffman tells me he doesn't expect any deals to come directly from this week of meetings. What's holding things up on the buy-side is price, and on the sell side price and the entrepreneurs vision.
Hoffman wouldn't comment on whether Zynga is heading towards an IPO - he's on the board- but he did weigh in on CEOs hesitation to go public. Hoffman sees entrepreneurs natural optimism preventing them from wanting to sell. The success of companies like Google (GOOG) creates a model and incentive to plan for the long term, saying "they want to build things with real persistence."
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