Zuckerberg: Facebook's "intense" year

Mark Zuckerberg's Tie

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, in a tie? Oh my.

If you know Mark you know he’s a pretty casual dresser. Usually seen in T-shirt, jeans, and sandals.

But not here at the World Economic Forum where we walked around downtown Davos last night for a while before heading into the Time Magazine’s reception. Last year we did a similar walk where I got to know him better.

This year people at the party noted his tie and he explained that he was wearing it to denote that this was Facebook’s “intense” year.

Last year when we walked around Davos they had about 50 million users. Today? More than 150 million with about 450,000 new users joining every day.

This is Facebook’s make or break year. It is the year that will set them up to be one of Silicon Valley’s most respected brands along with HP, Intel, Google or, well, it could be the year that the wheels come off of the train and everything goes wrong.

The tie is his way of telling his team and the world that this is Facebook’s most intense year.

We talked about a few other things too, here’s a selection.

**I gave him heck for kicking off people from Facebook who didn’t deserve the “death penalty,” as I put it. He said that they are always looking at how to protect its system from spammers and bad actors. “We’d rather put up with a few false positives,” he told me. He did like my idea of a less punitive “jail” for first-time offenders, though, so that the team can turn off certain features instead of just killing the account altogether. He also said that his system looks for “outlying” behavior. He said if you behave like an average user you should never trigger the algorithms that will get you kicked off. Of course, that irks me a bit because my usage of social media sites is totally outlier behavior. But, I can see his point. One thing that’s nice about Facebook is that I see very little spam or other nasty behavior.
**Facebook is, he told me, studying “sentiment” behavior. It hasn’t yet used that research in its public service yet, but is looking to figure out if people are having a good day or bad day. He said that already his teams are able to sense when nasty news, like stock prices are headed down, is underway. He also told me that the sentiment engine notices a lot of “going out” kinds of messages on Friday afternoon and then notices a lot of “hungover” messages on Saturday morning. He’s not sure where that research will lead. We talked about how sentiment analysis might lead to a new kind of news display in Facebook. Knowing whether a story is positive or negative would let Facebook pick a good selection of both kinds of news, or maybe even let you choose whether you want to see only “happy” news.
**At the Time Magazine party tons of people came up to him to tell him their Facebook stories. He deals with them graciously and talks to them about features in Facebook they might try. He noted with one such fan that lots of people haven’t played with the privacy settings, which give you control over who can see your photos, for instance. I think that’s really why Facebook is so popular. I know my wife really loves Facebook but hasn’t taken to Twitter or friendfeed. I sense that her ability to control which friends see her stuff is one reason why she’s so enthusiastic about Facebook. The second in command at Time, Michael Elliot said he would be so cool with his kids if they new he was hanging out with Zuckerberg.
**He asked me what I was most excited about. We talked about friendfeed. It’s clear to me that he’s watching friendfeed and learning from it about what works and doesn’t work. We talked about how it let me “sift” through tons of news and noise and pick things out for my friends to read. He’s very interested in that trend and, indeed, took a lot of shots when he added a newsfeed to Facebook. Now, he notes, that is a key feature of Facebook and even the haters have gotten used to it.
**He attended Vladimir Putin’s talk and thought Putin’s talk was interesting. “He is running Russia like the CEO of a big oil company,” Zuckerberg told me. As we talked it was clear that Zuckerberg analyzes how other people run things and is looking for positive things to do with his own company and is looking for what turns him off. He studied Psychology at Harvard and I see that training come out when discussing world events with him. You can also see his understanding of how people work all through Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg, founder Facebook, and Jet Li, famous martial arts star**He, along with Tony Blair, will be running the coat check at tonight’s Women’s Dinner. He was trying to rope Jet Li, famous martial arts star, into doing it too.

Anyway, I like the new intensity, but I did note that he was still wearing jeans and had his top button undone. Casual intensity. Sounds like Facebook is growing up, doesn’t it?

I have other photos from Davos up on my Flickr account
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Mike's mood improves when Paulo Coelho arrives

Famous author (he’s sold more than 100 million books) Paulo Coelho just arrived here at Davos and I turned on my Nokia and broadcast it live from the World Economic Forum. Mike Arrington introduced him to me and he gave some good advice for new authors. More to come from Davos over the next four days. Why did Mike’s mood need improving? Well, yesterday in Germany someone came up to him and spit in his face and he wrote on TechCrunch that he’s taking some time off of blogging.

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The real problem with Davos: not enough focus on small business

It’s interesting the tweets I’m getting.

@semipro writes: “@Scobleizer have we not come to expect way too much out of those meetings? They never produce anything and are a waste of time and money!”

@spotcher writes: “@Scobleizer davos is for the good times. there are no solutions to this mess. it has to play itself out.”

I disagree with both viewpoints. Davos has many excesses (at least last year. This year things are much more somber) but when you bring many of the world’s politicians and rich people together you can get lots of changes. On the bus ride here I met a few non-profits who say that Davos is invaluable for them to make new contacts and convince the world’s rich to support their efforts. Bill Gates’ foundation got mentioned several times on the bus ride in.

But, to me, I still haven’t heard much about how we’ll really get out of this mess: create tons of new small businesses. Big companies will NOT pull us out of this mess. They won’t hire people in big numbers until AFTER the economy starts turning around.

For me this all came to a head after reading Andrew Field’s pleas for help. Who is he? He runs Printing for Less. I interviewed him three years ago for PodTech. Back then his business was a growing one and was the darling of Montana’s rebuilding economy. Today? His business is under severe strain and might not survive the next few months, he wrote in Forbes.

Everyone should read his letter asking for a new kind of bailout
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His pleas should be heard. It’s small businesses like Printing for Less that will pull the economy out of its problems. The problem is that small businesses are getting slammed. Here’s why:

1. Rich people have had their assets decimated by both the stock market and by Bernie Maddoff’s ponzi scheme. That makes them far less likely to invest in new, small, unproven businesses. Venture capital was down quite sharply last quarter, which proves this trend too.
2. Housing prices are way down in many communities. That means entrepreneurs can’t pull equity out of their homes to keep businesses running short term. My mom, to buy a bookstore, took a loan on her home. That would be impossible if she were alive today.
3. Customers have disappeared — maybe even permanently — as we all slow down our spending, start saving for the future. That means that many small businesses are struggling to make ends meet.

So, as I walk around the World Economic Forum I’m asking people “how will you help out Andrew Field?”

So far I’m not hearing a lot of answers and THAT is the real problem with Davos.

I’ll report if I hear any good ideas. Do you have any?

By the way, I’m tracking all Davos news over on the friendfeed Davos room.

Friendfeed passes million visitor mark, TechCrunch reports

Interesting, Techcrunch reports that Friendfeed has passed the million visitor mark and has grown 10 fold in just the past few months. That matches my experience as well. I currently have 26,009 followers, which is incredible growth for a service that I’ve been on for 11 months. Now you know why I’m so addicted to the service.

For anyone new to friendfeed you should watch the video linked to off of this friendfeed item.

UPDATE: I made a mistake in calling “visitors” “members.” Louis Gray pointed that out to me, so did Jeremy Toeman. I have corrected this post.

Facebook screws iFart author

Facebook mat on 151 University

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

OK, I’m on the phone with Joel Comm right now. He’s been doing business online since 1995. He’s the co-creator of Yahoo Games. He wrote the Adsense Code, which got onto New York Times best selling list. He hosted and produced the first Internet reality show called the Next Internet Millionaire. He was the guy who came up with iFart, which got to be the #1 iPhone app on the iTunes store for three weeks. He also has “Twitter Power,” a book about Twitter coming out next month. You can find Joel on Twitter here.

Translation: he’s not a “nobody” on the Internet who is a spammer.

But, Facebook had a problem with him and kicked him off. Just like Facebook did to me just about a year ago. Why did this happen?

Well, he like me, has 4,999 friends which is the maximum allowed by Facebook. That’s not what got him in trouble. “So, Scoble, why you writing about him?”

Here’s why: he has 900 people who want to be his friend on Facebook. So, since he can’t add them to his social graph he sends them an a nice individual note, customized each time. He would look at each person’s profile and send them a nice note. What did the notes say? Something like “nice seeing you at XYZ conference, I can’t add you as a friend because Facebook doesn’t let me add more than 4,999 friends so could you please join me over on my fan page?” Sometimes also he’d send them over to his book page, or his Twitter page. Again, he customized each message to the person who was asking. Nothing automatic.

But yesterday Facebook disabled his account and removed his account from the public social graph. “I am the invisible man.” Facebook did exactly the same thing to me a year ago.

You still can get to his fan page, but he can’t administer it any longer (he has 734 fans). He also has a group on Facebook, which has more than 2,000 members. Fifty people have already joined a group to petition to have Joel added back to Facebook.

“So, why did they kick him off?” Because he triggered some sort of automatic alert that he was participating in spamming behavior.

“Did you get a warning,” I asked Comm.

“Yes. When we were sending the messages we got a warning and we stopped,” Comm says.

“Why did they kick you off then?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I stopped after they warned me. They kicked me off two days later. I have 900 people waiting to hear from me wondering why I’m ignoring them,” he told me.

“I try to log in now and it says my account is disabled. He sent them an inquiry and he got an email on January 22 at 1:42 p.m. Mountain Time. It says “Hi. The Facebook team has received your inquiries. We should get back to you soon. In the meantime, we encourage you to review our terms of use ( http://www.facebook.com/terms.php ). For more information. Thanks for contacting Facebook. — the Facebook team.”

Comm has no access to his photos. No access to his videos. No access to his wall posts. “I have no access, period,” he says. He wrote about the whole experience on his blog. I Googled his Facebook account and, right now, get a “Page Not Found” error. He has been “erased.”

I had almost the same experience a year ago and got more than 600 comments on that post. Every few days a new person leaves a sob story of getting kicked off of Facebook. I’ve complained about this quite a few times, including in public at SXSW when Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Facebook’s developer event there in 2008. I also have talked with Chris Putnam, head of Facebook’s video and security teams, as well as Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. Each time they say they will look into it. Each time nothing happens and the account disabling continues.

My account was closed like Joel’s although Facebook reinstated my account within 24 hours. I answered my email just like Joel did. Nicely and calmly. But I always assumed that getting to the top of TechMeme and getting hundreds of blogs to talk about the event helped get me reinstated too.

Irony: He wrote a 30 page report on Facebook on how social networking can improve your business which was very positive about Facebook.

Comm, like me, says he’ll be back on Facebook if they reenable his account but warns that people will get tired of this kind of treatment. “You know what, I don’t need big brother watching me and I’ll go use another site.”

Get Satisfaction, a site where you can leave customer complains for companies, has an extensive thread on this issue.

I agree. I refuse to use Facebook to conduct business and don’t upload many videos or photos there because I don’t support companies that “erase” MY data without my permission. I know of no other social network that does this in this way.

“So, Scoble, how should Facebook keep from having spammers take over its site? What should it do if it finds a legitimate spammer?”

If I were in charge at Facebook I would have a “jail.” If you broke the rules I’d move your account into “jail.” Everyone would be able to get to it, although you might have an icon that indicates the account has been thrown into jail. I would also turn off certain features on the account. I would just turn off messaging, for instance, if that person was abusing messaging. Or, turn off his/her ability to write on wall posts if he’s abusing privileges there.

I would NEVER delete or erase data. That’s highly unethical and really stupid when you need the trust of your users. Right now Facebook can do no wrong. It is getting 450,000 new users a day. So, they don’t care. But what about in four years when growth slows down and people discover a better system? I bet that they will wish they paid more attention to those issues then (sort of like Microsoft wishes it paid more attention to being a nice citizen back in the 1990s because it would help them get a better search service going today).

This week at the World Economic Forum I expect I’ll be seeing several executives from Facebook (they told me they were going). I’ll bring this issue up again with them and see if they have a better answer than they’ve had to date.

What do you think?