Gates shifts gears on LinkedIn

Microsoft leader now wants to know how best to get young people into science, technology

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has changed the question he will pose Thursday on the social-networking site LinkedIn from one that focuses on how technology can help his charitable causes, to one that asks what can be done to encourage more young people to pursue science and technology careers.

LinkedIn said earlier this week Gates would use its site and its "Question" feature to reach nearly 19 million users. Gates has recently created a profile on LinkedIn. His original question centered on how technology can be used to support his charitable causes better. That question had not been posted to the site before he decided on the change.

Gates, who will officially become a part-time employee of Microsoft in July, will post his new question February 28 to 19 million users of LinkedIn, a site that lets people create professional networks. In addition, LinkedIn is launching a redesign of its site and adding a new feature called "Status" that allows users to tell their network what they are working on or where they are going. In addition, Microsoft will be the exclusive advertiser on the site for the entire day.

The Question feature Gates will use allows the question to be broadcast to the entire LinkedIn network, which includes top executives representing all five hundred of the Fortune 500 companies, according to LinkedIn. Every LinkedIn member will be able to post answers to Gates's question in real time.

Social networking has not always been kind to Gates, although he is said to enjoy the technology. Last year, he ran into trouble with his Facebook site when he was overwhelmed with "Friends" requests and had to shut down his site. Microsoft since has made a US$240 million investment in Facebook, although it is unclear whether Gates has returned.

With LinkedIn, Gates can use privacy settings to prevent random people from asking him to connect to their network.

In addition to the status feature, LinkedIn is adding several customizable modules, including "Answers," to show questions a user's network is asking; "People" to show contacts made through the network; and "Jobs," to highlight jobs for which the user's network can provide help.

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