It was recently that Linkedin announced that they will ask 300 of their interns to “hack” the HR department and try to improve it. Most do not like the idea. My feelings initially was maybe Linkedin wanted to get the young person’s perspective of HR. Then, came Reddit.
If you don’t know the story, Reddit is a community board, of many topics, for people to join. They can talk about sports, movies, current events, world events, and any other topics. The other topics also include racist, sexist, misogynistic, and other deterrent communities for people to spew hatred at something. Earlier this month, CEO Ellen Pao (yes, the same Ellen Pao who went to court again Kleiner Perkins on gender discrimination and lost) resigned amid heavy scrutiny over the firing of Victoria Taylor (and the bad PR moves after Taylor’s firing), who moderated Reddit’s most successful venture, “Ask Me Anything.” The firing of Taylor caused an uproar for the Reddit users and trying to take “Chairman Pao” down. The users have succeeded overthrowing Pao, but at the same time, exposed what Reddit and most Web 2.0 companies were about: trying to maximize profit without spending a lot of money on talent.
It is understandable that if you’re working at a startup, you likely won’t get any money (I’ve been there before). You’re working because you are trying to build something special. For most of the startups, they will fail in their first or second year. However, what if a startup becomes successful? Reddit became a huge success because most of the memes and viral content came from Reddit. Then, Reddit wanted to expand and started doing the “Ask Me Anything” series with celebrities, politicians, and others. However, the culture of Reddit is their “free speech” approach that everyone has an opinion and willing to share anything. While it did have some good content, the goodwill goes away when you go the “subreddits” about people’s sizes, colors, and personal troubles and cause users to leave the site.
Arthur Chu has a money quote of why Reddit (and other Web 2.0 companies) exist:
This is the idea that you can build a functional community without having to spend any money or effort to manage it—that it just happens spontaneously through the “wisdom of crowds.” The Web 2.0 dream has always been to outsource all of the hard jobs to your users—that unpaid enthusiasts will do all the work of creating your content, curating your content, and promoting your content out of love, and all you have to do is pay some techies to keep the lights on.
This is why companies, like Reddit and Linkedin, are taking advantage of their users because each have their respective fanbase who are willing to help out, at little to no cost. For the people saying Linkedin thinks HR is dumb may or may not be right, but if Linkedin is asking 300 interns to hack to an HR department, they’re not saying HR is dumb, they’re saying they can get great ideas and practices on the cheap (At least Twitter will be paying for curators for “Project Lightning”). That’s how corporate crowdsourcing works.
Instead of building off actual communities to grow the user base that can be helpful and possibly profitable, what Linkedin and Reddit are really building is a false culture that you think you are helping, but in reality, you are not; and that’s not a good thing.