Yesterday morning I woke up early. Was sitting in the hotel lobby at 7 a.m. trying to check email when someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Mark Zuckerberg, founder/CEO of Facebook, which now has 68 million active users (people who’ve signed on in the past 30 days).
He invited me to a breakfast with Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf. We walked together to the breakfast, which was interesting because of Musharraf’s comments, where he defended his administration. After the breakfast Mark and I spent a bunch of time together, where he gave me permission to quote him.
Aside: I owe this interview to Lance Knobel, who writes the Davos Newbies blog (he used to work for the World Economic Forum and knows the Davos event inside and out). I met with him before coming to Davos and he told me to wake up early every morning and go to as many breakfasts as I could get to. If you ever get a chance to come to Davos you should look up Lance. Another great thing I’ve done is hanging out with Mike Arrington in the YouTube booth (Google graciously let me blog in their booth, which is where I’m writing to you now. Arrington has a post up about what has been happening here in the YouTube booth the past few days. A shout out too to the Forbes blogging crew who has been doing an awesome job from the same area. Here’s a video I filmed in the booth explaining how I got to Davos — while filming the video Bono, Tony Blair, and the Japanese Prime Minister walked past).
Anyway, back to Zuckerberg.
It will forever be one of the highlights of my life just walking alone through the streets of Davos with him.
I asked him why he doesn’t like going on video and seems to have difficulty dealing with the press and bloggers. He said he was shy. Asked me not to video him “I freeze up,” he told me. He did promise to meet more with bloggers and to give me a video interview when he’s back home.
It was an amazing admission.
But it was far from the only thing I learned about Mark. Over the three hours he demonstrated to me just how smart he was (Linden Labs founder, Phillip Rosedale, joined us at one point and they instantly broke into a discussion that switched back and forth between a pretty technical discussion of architectures and things they’ve both learned by scaling up businesses to millions of users. Zuckerberg said that Facebook makes a lot of use of memcache to get better performance and that they’ve built a lot of custom code for MySQL, which they’ve donated back to the community) and why he’s seen as one of the most interesting business leaders of our time. Talked with me about how his management team works, how he’s working to keep a unique culture, and gave me lots of details about what is coming this year in Facebook.
I also got a chance to watch him as he dealt with world leaders at a Newsweek lunch and came away impressed with his social graces. I wish I had his poise and skills and I’m almost twice his age.
One of the things that I hope to get him to tell me on camera is his descriptions of the people who work for him — it was a side of him that I haven’t yet seen displayed outwardly. It’s clear he has deep respect for the people who work with him. If there was a part of him that inspired me, that was it. Leaders usually are pretty good about sharing their strategy, but it’s a rare corporate leader who tells me interesting stories about his employees and the work that they do and work to share credit with other people.
Some things he shared with me about Facebook?
1. They are within weeks of shipping translated versions of Facebook. He wondered just how much faster Facebook would have grown if they had had translated versions sooner. He told me that they had traded off working on that to work instead on keeping up with the huge growth they had seen. He believes that much of Facebook’s growth this year will come from non-English-speaking regions.
2. They are working on a major overhaul of the application platform. Both to make apps less spammy and also to deliver much more functionality so more apps move beyond the viral, but pretty low feature, styles of apps.
3. They are still thinking about data portability and just how that will work to both protect users as well as to encourage new kinds of applications to be built. He explained to me that the kind of script that I was running is often used by spammers to send tons of messages to users and that’s something they are really working to protect their users against. On the other hand, he understood the kinds of apps that I wanted to have as a user. When Rosedale was sitting with us, I pointed out that I’d love to see when Facebook users are active on Second Life. That would require opening up the social graph to new kinds of data sharing that Facebook isn’t yet allowing. But he didn’t yet have answers as to just what Facebook will allow in the future.
4. I told him that Facebook’s messaging capabilities was both cool but also very limiting. Cool because, unlike my email, there isn’t spam. Limiting because I can’t join more people into a conversation thread after it starts. He told me that Facebook will see major changes in its architecture that would allow outside developers to build new capabilities in major parts of its service, which will help Facebook to see the features that I want to have. This is a sizeable shift in strategy for Facebook and one that is a great message for outside developers to see. One of the fears I hear is that developers are worried that Facebook will steal/copy their work and build popular apps or features itself. Zuckerberg told me that overtime it’ll be clear that the reverse will prove to be true.
5. He talked to me about his love of Scrabulous and was hopeful that a good resolution will come. Hasbro has been threatening the two developers of Scrabulous. I told Zuckerberg that it was clear that Hasbro had a case that its intellectual property was being infringed on (Scrabulous is an online version of Hasbro’s Scrabble, which pretty clearly infringes on copyrights and trademarks of Hasbro’s). Zuckerberg agreed that that was the case, but told me that Hasbro does see the value in getting a new online community built on its behalf. He thinks there may be an acquisition or other good outcome to the dispute.
6. I wondered if we’d see the ability to share photos and videos with the public internet. He said that they were working on better granularity on Facebook’s privacy features, which would allow such things, but that it’s tough to take some things into public light because Facebook’s features rely so much on tagging and other content from its members, some of whom might not want those details shared publicly. He expects Facebook to move cautiously in those areas.
7. Facebook has a limitation on the number of friends a person can have, which is 4,999 friends. He says that was due to scaling/technical issues and they are working on getting rid of that limitation. Partly to make it possible to have celebrities on Facebook but also to make it possible to have more grouping kinds of features. He told me many members were getting thousands of friends and that those users are also asking for many more features to put their friends into different groups. He expects to see improvements in that area this year.
8. He admitted to me that he had made mistakes in how they implemented Beacon and explained it. Watch for him to come back with a new Beacon and a much better explanation.
9. He admitted to me that he had made mistakes in how he communicates with the Facebook community. I asked him why he only blogs when the community has a negative reaction to something that Facebook does. he says that’s a mistake and that he’ll work on being more transparent and open with his communications. He also will encourage his team to work closer with bloggers, journalists, and members of the Facebook community to build better relationships so that problems can be discussed more openly. I urged him to change how Facebook deletes accounts from people who break the rules and to put in place more process for people to appeal deletion decisions.
One last thing. This post sounds fawning, I know. But Zuckerberg demonstrated to me that he is, indeed, the real deal and that the hype he’s gotten over the past year has largely been deserved. He definitely won me over.
Imagine what’ll he get done when he gets over his shyness.