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Thinking Out Loud: Facebook

By - September 16, 2007

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As part of my preparation for Web 2, I am going to think out loud and ask for all of your help. This year’s program for Web 2 includes an amazing array of leaders, and it’ll be my job, along with my co-producer Tim O’Reilly, to engage these folks in conversation worthy of the audience’s time.

So as I have in the past, I’ll use this space as a sketch pad of sorts.

First up is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook (stats). I’ll be interviewing him in the opening slot of the show. It’s not by accident. Last year the opening slot was Eric Schmidt, and this year it’s clear that Facebook has diverted the Valley’s short attention span from Google, at least for now.

The press is always looking for the “next (insert current fascination here)”, and there is no question that Mark and Facebook are getting the Google circa 2004 treatment. Once again, a young entrepreneur has dropped out of a top school (Harvard this time) and nurtured a simple but powerful idea – harnessing the The Force of Many (that’d be us) – into a billion dollar business. (And Facebook has scale – 60 million uniques and counting according to the new conversational media report from Comscore.)

There are significant differences between Google and Facebook, of course, and as something of a historian in this field, I can’t help but note them. One thing I’ve noticed is voice – Google tried from the very beginning to have a certain voice – quirky, fun, smart, non confrontational. Facebook’s voice, such as it is, is neutral, nearly non existent. The voice is its users, not the service itself.

I’m looking forward to talking with Mark, and framing the Facebook phenomenon in the context of the Web2 world and beyond. Here are the questions/issues/ideas that come to mind as I think out loud about our conversation. Please, add your own in comments, and help me make the conversation we have worth everyone’s time.

- Facebook’s recent success has created many imitators – the latest being Yahoo Mash and certain, er, upgrades at Orkut and Myspace. How do you handicap the competition, and what will keep Facebook on its current growth trajectory?

- The lactation incident (among many others, including the Islam food fight) brings Facebook into the world Google has been in for some time – as arbiter of acceptable speech. How do you plan to play in this world?

- As long as it’s been brought up, may as well ask: Folks have for some time been looking for the next Google. Increasingly, Facebook is being held up as a prime candidate. Your promulgation of the social graph – not unlike the Web graph which led to PageRank – only heightens the comparison. Are you comfortable with that role?

- Can you imagine Facebook as a broader search or portal company?

- Facebook aquired Parakey in July. Why? Is this the start of a trend? Will business plans be launched with the exit of “flipping it to Facebook?”

- On that subject (the Facebook economy), Facebook Platform has certainly been a hit, but some questions do arise. As an entrepreneur, I might see leveraging Facebook as a bit dangerous – the point of view of a developer or investor, what insurance do I have that Facebook won’t change its policies at some point, and my dependance on the platform becomes a liability?

- What is your companies Big Hairy Audacious Goal? Do you wish for Facebook to become “the identity platform for the Internet“?

- You are in your twenties. Do you feel a need to get a “grownup” to run the company, or at least bring in a partner, as Larry and Sergey did with Eric?

- Let’s talk Facebook’s business model. Many of your developers are making money via Google ads, which means Google is making money off Facebook. But you are not. Thoughts on that?

- Clearly you are already in the ad business – reportedly half your revenue is from ads you sell yourself, and the other half comes from your Microsoft deal. But how might you go deeper? Do you want to get into the ad operating system business – the domain of Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, and Google? How might you do that?

- Facebook seems prime territory for a test of sell side advertising. Thoughts?

- How is the deal with Microsoft going? No, really, how is it going?

- Speaking of the ad business, what did you and Walmart learn from this incident? From the new Flyer business model?

- You recently decided to leverage search by making profiles public. Let’s discuss.

- What is your approach to the public markets – Peter Theil says not for 18 months – and the future financing of the company? Will you go on a hiring/new product/international tear? For example, Google has internationalized quickly. Will you? What do you make of the knockoffs?

- Did you really say no to $1billion from Semel?!

- Let’s talk about the privacy issue. You have a ton of data on your users. Some are concerned about using that data for advertising, but it goes well beyond that – now you are in the world of, er, Google again. Would Facebook ever proclaim or endorse this statement: Don’t Be Evil?

Whew. That’s a lot. No wonder Facebook is our current fascination.

What did I miss? Looking forward to your input.

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  • http://searchengines.wordpress.com/ Search☸Engines WEB

    The exact moment the idea hit of opening up FaceBook….

    Who thought of it?

    What were the reactions the first time it was discussed among the VIPs?

    Which Web pioneer was your role model?

    What blogs do you read regularly?

    What was first reaction to Digg?

    When did you first use Google – what did you use before?

    What is your favorite quote?

  • nmw

    Great questions: Tough act to follow!

    after mulling it over, I came up with these 2:

    1. Some people (e.g. nmw, reminiscing of FZ’s “Blue Light”) maintain that a community should have an ethos, a pathos, etc. Do you think that Facebook might be interpreted as too STERILE? Why or why not? (sounds like high school, doesn’t it? ;)

    2. In “actual” real estate, an oft-touted maxim is: “Location, location, location.” Do you feel this applies and/or translates to “virtual” real estate (“online properties”)? How will Facebook “fit in” with the rest of the online media landscape?

    I’m not really sure whether these questions bring up something that you haven’t already covered in you rather exhaustive list — they just occurred to me and I simply decided to write them down.

    :) nmw

  • Bruce

    Great line up; here are a few more for…

    1. What would you suggest is the ideal “Facebook Strategy” for a publisher vs. an online advertiser? Which 3rd parties have seemingly worked best with Facebook?

    2. How much dissonancse there, if any, between what you imaged FB would be in 2004 and what it has become today?

    3. Relative to FB what keeps you up at night?

    Cheers

  • http://greenteaicecream.co.uk Michael Clarke

    I’d have to say I disagree with the idea of Facebook’s voice as ‘neutral, nearly non existent’. Facebook does have a voice – it’s revealed in actions such as limiting friends to 5000, the choices it makes in closing down accounts and most of all, in the inconsistency with which it follows its own policies exemplied by the recent removal of images of breastfeeding.

    In other words, it’s the voice of a company that doesn’t see itself as needing to justify itself to its users – even the Facebook blog doesn’t have comments enabled.

    So one question I’d love to ask is:
    “Why is Facebook such a self-consciously closed book to its users?”
    oh, and
    “Why is Facebook so bothered by pictures of breastfeeding?”

  • http://www.nikoncafe.com/vforums/ Monty

    Look forward to your piece on Facebook – although I’m no-where nearly as convinced as the likes of you that it’s such a big deal?

    Also, in my grumpy moments I find the phrase “Web2″ or “Web2.0″ annoying – as it’s nothing new, either, just a normal configuration of standard technology – yet the “v2″ moniker gives it a false predominance.

    Now if it was based on the *next* up-and-coming net technology, or even something that could be a Big Thing then THAT would be worth earing about – as it is Web2 is snake oil, IMNSHO.

    Unimpressed of Utopia :-)

  • Randy White

    I would ask him what Facebook is doing to help people prepare for the massive economic crash coming to America.

  • Justin Keller

    I’m curious to know what Mark thinks about Facebook in a context beyond the Internet. Say a person is reading “The Search” in a coffee shop and you too were a fan of the book, you might go introduce yourself and have a discussion about it and potentially make a new acquaintance. Facebook is blurring the lines between making friends online and making new friends in a coffee shop in a more legitimate way than ever – how does Mark anticipate this extending even further as Facebook becomes a fixture in real-life social interaction?

  • 360view4u

    would like to know the revenue model of facebook? and what if – firm not interested to be sold out to biggies like Microsoft , Yahoo and Google.

  • http://christienlouviere.com Christien Louviere

    Simple question: How did you decide on the name Facebook?

  • John

    Facebook found its original popularity with students. Are there any possibilities of collaborating with educational institutions on using Facebook in instruction? Have you heard of any interesting examples of an instructor using Facebook in a class?

  • facebooger

    Many interesting questions – that unfortunately have the effect of injecting more hot air into into the irrational exuberance. What does it say about us that we are so desperate to touch the Philosopher’s Stone that we’ll project it onto such a bland cubic zirconium? If it weren’t for all this manufactured talk of multi-billion dollar valuations, we could maybe begin to evaluate this so-called platform with honest eyes.

    The interesting question to me is can the collective hallucination be sustained long enough for all those smart people they’re hiring to develop a concrete business plan before everyone wakes up to this being just yet-another-social-network with new flavors of frosting and chocolate sprinkles? The current user experience isn’t much more than the equivalent of jerking off to your high school yearbook while Twittering and tending a Tamagatchi. Stickyness and utility do not equate and users will burn out on playing in this walled garden at the same pace they have in all previous iterations.

    Its interesting to me that so many who are fanning the flames of this flash in the pan online will speak quite cynically of facebook’s chances offline. Like people who were buying houses during the real estate boom in the belief that dumber suckers were waiting further down the line.

  • Patrick Dodds

    Great questions so far. I’d like to ask if FB is going to team up with a facial recognition tool at some point and allow for live people searching using a camera during a bus ride / on the street / on the tube? Scary. Is this going to become a possibility given the huge numbers of tagged pics in FB?

  • andylockran

    I think an important question is how to deal with facebook’s transition from private-members site to publicly accessible (albeit limited access site). The question about which information is made accessible to search engines is quite a major issue. Why is it an opt-out, rather than an opt-in policy. Would you repeat the same policy for any further developments?
    and why oh why isn’t their an app-blocker. Simply a check box that says “I’m boring, don’t allow my friends to invite me to share any of their applications, I’ll add them at my leisure instead.”

  • dmc

    So my question around facebook is when they are going to allow you to separate (privately) friends, family and colleagues. I think there are different social uses, and being found for one may cause problems with the other. Despite its other issues, Gather.com did a great job delineating and keeping private the items posted privately or to select groups, so much so that the editors would not see content not meant for “editing” in the UGC context. Facebook + social cleavage = LinkedIn killer app.

  • John Ferguson

    Same style of question as many above.

    What does Facebook’s roadmap look like? And as users, can we be involved in plotting the course?

    Many recent Facebook additions, e.g. search-engine registration, etc. have been a bolt from the blue. It would be nice to know what’s on the horizon and possibly to play a part in building it.

  • http://www.epictum.com Mike

    This might be a bit too late and way out west, but I’d like to know how the generational gap has influenced some of Mark’s business decisions. A handful of studies have shown that Gen-Xers don’t exhibit the same kind of loyalty that baby boomers have had with their company. In that respect, would you say that FB hasn’t yet “exploded” in the conglomerate world, based on the Enron, WorldCom and Tyco fiasco (too much hot fuss/greediness, not enough transparency)? Do you ever think that you won’t be able to trust anyone? Does age play a factor at all, and would you feel more comfortable dealing with someone your own age?

  • tom troja

    How does Facebook bring more and more large advertisers in and help them effectively interect with users so they come back again and again? Facebook sold off their banners to Microsoft partly so they could focus on generating big revenue on sponsored stories and sponsored groups. How is that going? Are brands/agencies doing a great job at getting invited into social circles through these stories and groups? Facebook is relying on agencies/brands to create hits with its users with one off “big ad ideas”, doesn’t that leave Facebook at risk if they don’t work? What will Facebook do to help brands succeed? What are your ad targeting plans? How deep will you go into the data? What is taboo? How far will Facebook go to help brands interact effectively/successfully with people?

  • http://www.kruse.co.uk/ SEO BB

    You missed “Is the purpose of Facebook to give the chattering classes a playground wherein their behaviour may be studied and analysed and then they can be served with appropriate adverts?”

    BB

  • katrina Onufer

    go for it