Interview: Veteran Product Lead Josh Elman on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter — and Joining Greylock

Josh Elman has been in the trenches of product development since mid-1990s, with his resume reading like a who’s who of major web companies today. He started at Homestead and RealNetworks in the 1990s, and went on to hold key product roles at LinkedIn, Zazzle, Facebook and most recently Twitter.

But after 15 years building products, he recently became a principal at Silicon Valley venture firm Greylock Partners. We sat down with him recently to get his take on where Facebook and Twitter are going, and to learn more about his own plans now that he’s an investor.

Inside Facebook: If you were abandoned on an island for the rest of your life, would you rather be stuck with Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Williams or Jack Dorsey?

Josh Elman: Um, wow that’s a great question. I’d probably choose Ev. Ev, Zuck and Jack are great entrepreneurs, and I have massive respect for all three. But I’ve spent most of the most time with Ev and would love to spend more. Of the three, I feel closest and most stylistically connected to him. And I’d add Reid Hoffman to this list too — and should note that I’m happy to be working with him again.

IF: It’s 2011, and despite all the years of speculation about Facebook and Twitter killing each other, they are obviously coexisting now. But having worked at both companies, what do you predict for them (and other social platforms) in the future — let’s say in the next 5 years to keep that question somewhat focused?

JE: The way that I think about a lot of the opportunities in communication is: Where do we turn to as humans to find out what we care about in the world? In the past it was maybe newspapers, TV, radio. Now it’s mobile, iPads, computers, TV — we’re turning to all these different screens. But we really want an emotional connection to people we care about, to be more informed, and to be more able to react to conversations that are important and interesting around us.

There are three streams of important information. One of those, I think, is direct messages to me. That’s mostly email. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t do this (though I’m sure there are some) — the question of whether Facebook and Twitter can do to replace it gets asked a lot less now.

The second stream is what is happening with the people I love and care about. It’s obvious that Facebook has become that for everybody. When you want to know what’s going on with a friend, you have these incredible emotional moments on Facebook. You see them change jobs, celebrate their kids, share funny or important links.

The third stream is the world: What should I know about and care about? Everyone wants to know what’s happening. I think that Twitter is really redefining what that experience means. For example, recently there was an earthquake, and a lot of folks turned to Twitter to both share what happened and to verify what happened.

And for a lot of folks, there is a fourth stream — your work/professional stream. There are a lot of companies working on different facets of this between LinkedIn for your professional life, Google Apps, Salesforce, Asana, and more for your productivity. And email is still a huge component here.

IF: Right, that’s today, but all these companies are in some ways getting into each other’s turf.

JE: Think about it this way. If your favorite Italian restaurant hires a Japanese chef, who then starts doing Japanese noodles, you still wouldn’t go there for Japanese noodles unless it was the best Japanese noodles ever. You’d still want to go to an Italian restaurant for Italian food, or go to a Japanese restaurant for the noodles.

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