John Edwards drops out of presidential race

Dan Balz, political reporter for the Washington Post, reports that John Edwards is going to drop out of the US presidential race today. It’s a sad ending to the race for me, since I’ve been an Edwards’ supporter since before he invited me to come along on his plane when he announced that he was running back in late December of 2006 (he spoke at Gnomedex that year). On that trip I met Dan Balz, too, who has been covering politics since the 1970s. Back then he said that the press had already picked Clinton and Obama to cover, since their stories were more interesting. Most of the political experts I met with back then thought that Clinton was going to take it all. That looks like it is still pretty likely. But I’m going to vote for Barack Obama in next Tuesday’s primary here in California. I met Hillary when she spoke at Microsoft and, while she’s very smart and will be a capable president, I just like Barack better. I’m tired of Bush and Clinton families running America and want a change. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. Now back to talking about technology…

Thank you Yossi Vardi

Yossi Vardi has made my time here in Davos simply incredible. I am in deeply in his debt for what he’s personally done for me. The Shabbat dinner he took me to last night was simply incredible. I filmed an intimate traditional ceremony there. It is the one video I’m keeping for myself and I will treasure those moments more than my walk with Mark Zuckerberg.

How special was that? Well, Klaus Schwab, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, told me that it is his favorite event of the whole week. You can’t get in without a private invite and it was one of those things that you just can’t believe you’re part of. I was pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Who is Yossi? You can read about him here but that really doesn’t do it justice. He has the ear of the Israeli president and is very influential in Davos. If you ever get a chance to go to Davos and Yossi wants you to go somewhere you go. Yesterday I had paid about $80 for a lunch and he walked up and told me “you aren’t going to go to that.” He then said “follow me” where he brought me to a lunch where there I got a lot of the photos on my Flickr stream. When Queen Rania of Jordan walks into lunch (she’s talking to the head of Columbia University in this photo) you KNOW you are in an interesting lunch.

Thank you Yossi for your friendship and mentorship. It’s not many people who’ve had such a deep impact on the future of my life as you’ve had. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Yossi has been a friend of mine for 12 years now. We met after I started one of the first Web sites to support and evangelize ICQ (his kids started that, which they sold for $407 million to AOL after 18 months in business). Everytime he meets me he greets me with a good joke, a big hug, and a warm personality. He treats everyone the same, by the way, from world leaders to everyday people he meets. He’s really an incredible person and someone I feel very blessed in knowing.

UPDATE: I just filmed Yossi Vardi who talked about this morning’s breakfast he hosted.

Are we in a recession?

It’s interesting to hear different people’s opinions at the World Economic Forum about what the economy is going to do this year. Most people here believe we’re in the midst of a recession, which technically is two quarters of negative growth. There’s certainly many here who are gloomy about the future, but there is definitely lots of positivity too.

I spoke with Steve Forbes last night (yes, that Steve Forbes) and he thinks that the doom and gloomers shouldn’t be listened to. He sees one quarter of bad news and then sees the economy coming back in the second quarter.

I forget his name, but a senior partner at Accel Venture Partners told me while we were waiting for a bus together that he’s watching the sales and other data from 250 startups reporting to Accel and he sees nothing but growth and is very optimistic. That optimism has been shared among the VC’s I’ve run into this week.

Google execs are upbeat and are hiring and so are many other companies. Startups continue getting funded. Facebook’s executives tell me they are continuing to hire and expand at a rapid pace.

On the other hand, the subprime problems are very real. I know a couple of people who are getting kicked out of their homes because they couldn’t afford to keep up with payments. Now, you can blame these people, but one of these families has an autistic child and so the mom can’t work. That wasn’t something they planned on, but they are getting evicted nonetheless and this is in Silicon Valley in Saratoga, a pretty rich community. Certainly real estate values are under pressure, in some communities in San Joaguin Valley in California housing prices are seeing huge drops (I’ve heard stories of homes being sold for $350,000 in neighborhoods where prices were $600,000 two years ago).

So, are we in a recession? Or are things going to roar ahead in 2008? What are you seeing from your vantage point?

The shy Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

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.

Advertising and hiring

You might have read on TechCrunch that I’m going to soon have advertising here on my blog.

It is true.

Why do it when I haven’t liked advertising in the past?

Because it will let me hire people to produce more content.

I watched how Mike Arrington turned his blog into something that now employs more than 10 people.

Journalism is under attack because the business models for journalism are disappearing.

Fast Company told me that they have a great business model that can support more journalism. The magazine’s advertising sales were up 40% last year. They are investing in journalism. In editing. In content.

At PodTech one of the failures I had was not finding more ways to help hire more journalists around the world. This will be an experiment to see if we can hire even more journalists.

Will it affect the content? I hope it will! I expect that as we hire more people the content here and on (opening March 3) will improve.