Don’t Look For “Professor Billionaire” David Cheriton on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter

September 20, 2012

I don’t like Facebook, never have.  It’s not that I don’t “get” it.  Facebook’s senior management simply rubs me the wrong way, coming off as a bunch of privileged Ivy League elitists with questionable integrity and ethics (apparently, I’m not alone in that opinion).  I don’t trust that the things I might “share” today would always be as private as I intend.  Besides, call me old school, but I actually prefer talking or meeting with people I truly consider my friends.

That said, I long ago came to realize Facebook’s likely long-term social impact and influence.  After all, millions of others are using the site every day, including people whose judgment I greatly respect such as my colleague Jackie and my close friend Bethann, both of whom easily rival me on the “private person” front.  I assumed I was just out of sync on this one.

And then I read the recent Forbes profile on Stanford’s so-called “Billionaire Professor” David Cheriton, tagged by the magazine as likely being the wealthiest full-time academic in the world.  He helped back some of the biggest, most successful, game-changing technology companies in their infancy, including Google and outfits ultimately bought by Cisco and Sun Microsystems.  Given his track record, and that he’s accumulated a net worth in excess of $1 billion from his tech investments, I’d say this guy is worth listening to.

Guess what? Fellow Canadian Cheriton isn’t on Facebook — or LinkedIn, or Twitter.  According to Forbes, Cheriton dismisses social networking as a “market whim.”   Oh, reeeally?  That got my attention, as he talks about believing “…that if you are providing real value to the world and doing it in a sensible way, then the market rewards you.”  Now there’s a concept I can get behind.

Even the best investors can be incredibly wrong sometimes; so maybe Cheriton is badly mistaken about his dubious outlook on the long-term viability of social networking sites.  When you have a net worth in excess of $1 billion, I suspect more than enough people have a way of finding you, which possibly colors Cheriton’s perspective.  And, then again, maybe it’s just a Canadian thing.

But here’s something definitely worth considering: one of Stanford’s most respected professors, reportedly the go-to guy for Silicon Valley’s best and brightest budding technologists, has a Klout score of zero, if I correctly understand that measurement tool. Call me a contrarian, but I think I’ll listen to what he has to say just the same.