Bill Gates connects at LinkedIn

Microsoft chairman is flooded with responses; Many want to 'connect'

Within 10 hours, Bill Gates had racked up nearly 1,200 answers to a question that he posed on professional-networking site LinkedIn, with new comments coming in every minute.

More interesting, or at least more amusing, than perusing the answers may be reading follow-up questions and answers posted by other LinkedIn members.

"I didn't bother to answer. I just assumed that it wasn't really Bill Gates," wrote Angela DiMeglio in response to a related question. "Am I wrong in assuming that?"

She was wrong, but it wasn't a bad assumption, given the number of Bill Gates and William Gates profiles on LinkedIn. Some of them ring true, albeit for people not quite as famous as the founder of Microsoft, but others don't. One Bill Gates describes himself as the owner of Microsoft and said he took six years to graduate from the California University of Pennsylvania.

One clue that the question posed by the real Bill Gates (presumably) is legitimate is that it has a "featured" tag and displays a banner ad for Windows Server 2008.

"I had a little chuckle at the Windows Server 2008 advert myself," wrote Steve Nimmons, in response to a different question about the Gates query. "This gave me a little more confidence that the whole thing hadn't been a hoax."

But it did make some people wonder if the intention of the question -- "How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?" -- was entirely altruistic.

Some speculated that Gates' very public use of LinkedIn indicates that he wants to buy the site. "Since Linkedin was chosen over the Microsoft properties to ask this question, I have a strong feeling a purchase is a consideration," wrote Eileen Bonfiglio.

A public relations firm alerted members of the press in advance that the question would be posted on Thursday, suggesting that the idea wasn't a spontaneous one from Gates. The posting of the question also coincided with a redesign of LinkedIn's home page, an event that the public relations firm pointed out in the same e-mail as the one with advance notice of the Gates question.

The company said the redesign, and not the response to the Gates question, was the likely cause of a crash that shut down the site for a period earlier today.

Another enterprising LinkedIn user is hoping to figure out how to join Gates' network to enhance his own career. "What is the best strategy to get invited to join Bill Gates network on LinkedIn?" Terrence Olsen, a popular LinkedIn member with more than 500 connections, asked.

Olsen received a few answers to his questions, primarily encouragement. Some of them agreed that getting connected to Bill Gates' LinkedIn profile definitely earns a person bragging rights.

Without the right connections, though, some LinkedIn users can't view Gates' profile. For some people, clicking on the link to his profile, which is attached to the question, brings up a page saying that the user doesn't know anyone in common with Gates, so his profile can't be displayed. LinkedIn's public relations firm e-mailed a link to Gates' profile, which shows that so far he has three connections.

Gates could be proceeding cautiously with his use of LinkedIn. While popularity is the goal for many social-networking-site users, for someone as well-known as Gates, it's a burden. Reportedly, he recently quit using Facebook because he found it difficult to manage the huge number of requests for friendship that he received.

There were many good answers to Gates' question, as well as messages pitching relevant organizations. The question spans Gates' current dual roles of working at Microsoft as well as his massive charitable organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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