At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference last week there was one significantly awkward moment that stuck out. At a panel session an audience member questioned LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman on LinkedIn’s design – asking whether they made the interface difficult to use deliberately.
Specifically, Jouran Urbach – CTO of Ocho – stated that the site was “one of the least responsive, most confusing interfaces on the public Internet.” A braver man than most!
Hoffman was understandably very defensive. While he completely dismissed it at first he did eventually concede:
"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'."
It’s great to hear that it’s something that is being worked on, if not slightly unfortunate that Hoffman jumped so quickly to insulting other platforms. On the internet complexity just isn’t an excuse – if anything, most platforms exist to help turn complicated functionality into ease of use through design.
LinkedIn is thought by some to have a somewhat clunky interface – and at times seems like disparate components stuck together. Given that sentiment it would have been great to hear Hoffman attack the issue head-on rather than work his way around the question.
The Next Web’s Abhimanyu Ghoshal gave this example of where the platform can struggle:
"Whenever I’ve tried to accept several connection requests from the top navigation bar, there’s no way to clear out those that you’ve acted on to make room for more while staying on the page. Instead, you’ll have to click See All, and visit a page that’s filled with more ‘people you may know’ than actual invitations."
That said, its huge and growing user base suggests that the design is working for most, or at least not impeding it as a platform. What do you think? Do you find LinkedIn’s design simple to use?
You can see the video and transcript below:
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.