Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zuckerberg Rex?

This chart, showing the flow of talent among Silicon Valley heavyweights, is sort of breathtaking.

What you see here is Facebook suctioning up the talent of the entire tech industry. LinkedIn, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo are all losing employees to Facebook, and the latter four at a staggering rate.

So what does this mean? Is Zuckerberg going to conquer the world? Does Silicon Valley think Zuckerberg is going to conquer the world?

Probably not. I'm not sure precisely what's causing these trends, but I have a hard time believing it's tech workers migrating to companies with brighter futures. Because look who comes in second: LinkedIn, the red-headed stepchild of the New Tech Boom. I know, I know -- their IPO was a big hit. But what does LinkedIn actually do? It's a poor man's Facebook -- or more accurately, Facebook for the white working class -- an overly sanitized, overly corporatized social network for aspiring professionals and really no one else. It's the middle-management ethos made manifest in a website. There's probably a niche for that, especially in an age where everyone and their brother needs a job, but absolutely nothing about LinkedIn suggests it has the power to entrench itself in the social fabric in the same way that Google or Facebook does, or climb to ever-greater commercial heights the way Apple already has.

Hot companies might be able to entice employees away from Google and Microsoft with some combination of higher wages and tech trendster cred -- Facebook had a movie made about them, after all, and LinkedIn, it's true, has been splashed all over the front page of the Wall Street Journal. But these are second-order indicators of success (just like the chart itself is), and I think they're deceptive. The investors who jumped so eagerly for LinkedIn, and the talent flocking to it -- did they look it up and down and decide the site has huge potential for growth, or did they just think "This company is hot right now, and all these people can't be wrong?"

I know what I think. And I'll just say that some of the bubbles in this chart don't seem big enough.

The best way to understand these companies is and always will be to look at what they produce and how people use that product. Right now, there are a lot of signs people are looking at, and reacting to, something else altogether.

(h/t Ezra Klein)

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