Bill Gates, Opening Up to World of Social Media, Rolls Out New Website and Twitter Feed

1/20/10Follow @gthuang

It feels like the dawn of a new era. As of yesterday, Bill Gates is officially on Twitter, where he has already attracted more than 235,000 followers in the first day or so. Gates also just announced a new website, called the Gates Notes, where he will be sharing his thoughts (that extend greater than 140 characters) on what he’s working on and the societal issues he’s passionate about—global health, education, the environment, and so forth.

The Microsoft co-founder and chairman—also the co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—has always communicated extensively through memos, speeches, and books. Now he will be using social media and the Web to reach an even bigger, more mainstream audience, and to impart his message on a wide range of global issues he’s dived into since leaving his full-time job at Microsoft in June 2008.

To me, this feels like a big deal—like social media has passed another threshold. Gates being on Twitter means even the world’s richest man cannot hide from this mode of interactive communication. The world’s most influential people can no longer operate solely behind the scenes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily want to know what Gates is thinking about on a daily basis. Part of what makes certain leaders special is that you don’t know what they’re working on all the time. In any case, let’s hope his Web writings truly reflect his personal views and analysis, and are not just the product of a finely honed advisory staff and PR team.

The Gates Notes site is currently divided into a number of nevertheless intriguing sections: “What I’m thinking about” (including ways to deal with carbon emissions through innovation in transportation and electricity); “What I’m learning” (including references to books by Vaclav Smil, a global energy and population expert); and “My travels” (including his impressions of health care in India).

Gates says the site is an extension of the annual letter he writes for the Gates Foundation—this year’s will be posted on Monday, Jan. 25. “I decided to write an Annual Letter because in 2008, Warren Buffett encouraged me to find a way to share my thinking more broadly about the foundation’s goals and to assess as frankly as possible our progress toward achieving these goals,” Gates writes on his site. “I wrote my first Annual Letter in 2009, and I have to admit I was surprised by the outpouring of interest after it was published.”

For a little more context, Gates’s introductory note on his new site reads, in full:

“Since leaving my fulltime job at Microsoft to dedicate more time to our foundation, a lot of people have asked me what I’m working on. It often feels like I’m back in school, as I spend a lot of my time learning about issues I’m passionate about.

“I’m fortunate because the people I’m working with and learning from are true experts in their fields. I take a lot of notes, and often share them and my own thoughts on the subject with others through e-mail, so I can learn from them and expand the conversation.

“I thought it would be interesting to share these conversations more widely with a website, in the hope of getting more people thinking and learning about the issues I think are interesting and important. So, welcome to the Gates Notes.”

And welcome to a brand-new era of transparency in thought leadership.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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