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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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.