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Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg opens up

  • Story Highlights
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about the evolution of his company
  • You should be able to connect to business like you do a person, Zuckerberg says
  • Zuckerberg: It's easy to have philosophy but moving people there is harder
  • Value of site is that it "opens up communication channels and builds relationships"
By Fred Vogelstein
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(WIRED) -- Back in April, I interviewed Mark Zuckerberg as part of my research for Wired's Great Wall of Facebook piece.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, Germany.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Digital Life Design conference in Munich, Germany.

Here is an edited transcript in which the Facebook founder and CEO talks about the limitations of walled gardens, the evolution of privacy online and why Home Depot should "humanize" itself. What is your vision for Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg: When I started Facebook from my dorm room in 2004, the idea that my roommates and I talked about all the time was a world that was more open.

We believed that people being able to share the information they wanted and having access to the information they wanted is just a better world: People can connect better with the people around them, understand more of what's going on with the people around them, and understand more in general.

Also, openness fundamentally affects a lot of the core institutions in society -- the media, the economy, how people relate to the government and just their leadership. We thought that stuff was really interesting to pursue.

I think it turns out that the best way to do that is to build a company and an organization. We've learned a lot along the way about how to do that.

One of the things we learned was that there were two ways to get to this place of more information access. There was the top-down way, right -- you can kind of characterize that by the Google, or search approach -- where you have a bunch of machines and algorithms going out and crawling the web and bringing information into them.

But we figured that over time that wouldn't actually be the best approach. We figured it wouldn't get the most information. It would only get stuff that was publicly available to everyone, and it wouldn't give people the control that they needed to be really be comfortable. No one wants to live in a surveillance society, which, if you take that to its extreme, could be where that's going.

And there's (Facebook) -- a kind of a ground-up approach -- where people choose to share all this information themselves.

It's a slower approach, right, because what it means is that people need to move through this process of realizing that sharing information is good, and slowly sharing more and more information over time.

But by doing that you get a lot richer information; you get information that people don't want to share with everyone, but they just want to share with some people around them.

You get personal information, like photos from my vacation, or a trip that I want to share with people. And it just ends up being a richer web, and it's more democratically controlled by the people who are sharing stuff, as opposed to by some central entity that's going out and indexing all this information, right?

And that's the path we've been on, and it's really interesting just watching the rate of information production change.

I think at this point there are probably more people who are sharing stuff either privately or semi-privately on social networks (than just letting it be crawled by search engines). When I use that word, I mean sharing with 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 people. It's not e-mail that you're sending to one or two people, but it's also not something that you're making available to everyone.

I think there's a lot of information that people are sharing like that now, and that's probably growing a lot quicker than the volume of blogs, or other completely open sites on the web.

There's something like a billion new photos a month (on Facebook), and that's just one type of media on the site (Facebook) where there is over a billion new pieces of information shared each week. Let's be a little bit more specific. You just gave us a 30,000-foot view. Maybe we should do it now from 5,000 or 10,000 feet.

Zuckerberg: So I think there are two big themes: One is just the trend that Facebook is taking for the next couple years, and then there's more structural stuff that's underlying that in terms of the platform that we're building.

First, think about how the Facebook platform has evolved. We started off as this platform inside Facebook; and we were pretty clear from the beginning that that wasn't where it was going to end up.

A lot of people saw it and asked, "Why is Facebook trying to get all these applications inside Facebook when the web is clearly the platform?" And we actually agreed with that. It's just that we were just getting started. And now as time goes on, we're shifting away from Platform inside Facebook and shifting more towards Connect (outside of Facebook).

And Connect has just a lot of advantages that I think developers will gravitate towards. So, the ability for developers to have their own website with all the same functionality in it that they could've built inside Facebook allows them to build their own brand, allows them to have their own users more than just getting Facebook users inside the site. So, I just think it ends up being a stronger system than the first Facebook platform we had.

The structural change comes from this point of openness. We talk about this concept of openness and transparency as the high level ideal that we're moving towards at Facebook.

The way that we get there is by empowering people to share and connect. The combination of those two things leads the world to become more open. And so as time has gone on, we've actually shifted a bit more of a focus not just on directly making it so people can use Facebook and share and be open on Facebook, but instead on making it so that the systems themselves have open properties.

So, one analogy that we think about is a government or a nation. If you want to be free, or you want to preserve freedom for people, you both need to have laws that make it so people have freedom of speech and all the freedoms that they need. You also need to have an open governance system where people can vote and people have representation.

And we think that over the long-term the way that we actually create the most openness and transparency in the world (at Facebook) is both by creating the most powerful applications ourselves and creating a platform that is fundamentally moving more in the direction of being an open platform itself, right?

So we're aiming for openness on two levels: One on the fact that there's more sharing, and another on the fact that by having these open standards, you're constantly moving towards a place in the industry where there will be more and more sharing, right? So people can bring their information anywhere they want. Anyone can use the platform. Does that mean every Facebook user will have control over how public his/her information is and be able to decide whether or not it can be crawled by search engines?

Zuckerberg: We've already started moving in that direction. Just a couple of weeks ago we announced this open privacy setting where prior to that it was impossible for someone to take their profile and say that they wanted it to be open.

Now they can do that. They can say it's open to everyone. And what I would just expect is that as time goes on, we're just going to keep on moving more and more in that direction.

We launched stuff like Platform, and we get a lot of praise for that. We also get a lot of people saying "But this isn't as open as it needs to be." And in a lot of ways I think they're right, but this stuff takes time.

We're moving a community of 200 million people along this spectrum trying to tell people to share information and be comfortable with that.

Just from the launches that we've had, it's pretty clear that we haven't mastered the art of moving people along in terms of change, making these changes; but I think we're getting better at it. And there's a long way to go, but I think that's kind of the direction that we're moving in. Why not pursue this strategy from the beginning? Why did you wait until now to do all the things that we're talking about?

Zuckerberg: So this is a really important point. It's really easy to have a nice philosophy about openness, but moving the world in that direction is a different thing. It requires both understanding where you want to go and being pragmatic about getting there.

In politics you get this all the time. It's easy for people to have a point of view on how things should be, yet the people who are actually in the Senate or Congress or White House need to balance on a daily basis where they want to go with how they actually get stuff done. So would you agree with the statement, then, that you can't succeed on the internet by putting up walls?

Zuckerberg: I think it's not quite that black and white. What I think is true is that over time things trend towards becoming more open, right. I think early on they tend to start closed. And that's important, right? It's an important phase.

One analogy and example that I look at is personal computers and how they evolved. You started off with people who just built the whole thing themselves. Then as time went on the platforms either for hardware or software became more open, and that has produced a much better outcome in terms of the types of machines that people can use.

But it had to start somewhere, right? It couldn't start off as this open platform. Someone had to put the idea of a computer out there first.

So I think you generally want to move towards more openness. I don't think anything ever gets completely open. Is there an open format for keyboards? I guess so. There are multiple different keyboard layouts. But basically everyone uses one, right? Except many believe that the rules that drove the PC industry don't apply to the rules that are evolving around business on the internet. They say that you actually need to start open and continue to be open.

Zuckerberg: So I think one thing that's really important is that the rules are constantly changing. I think a lot of the issues that some of these other companies have had is they define themselves too narrowly as a company in a specific medium.

Like e-mail could have easily moved into being what social networks are today. I think a lot of e-mail companies now are actually trying to move in that direction. But I feel like because they defined themselves as just e-mail companies, they didn't adapt quickly enough.

We define ourselves more broadly, as a company that's trying to bring innovative things to people that help them share more and make the world more open. And I think that that mindset allows us to change very rapidly.

Sometimes it's so rapid that our community isn't ready for it or isn't happy about it when it initially happens. But I feel like our approach of just being focused on understanding this trend (of openness and sharing) and moving very quickly along it has been a stronger approach than anyone who's tried to build a medium for where the world is in any given point in time. How do you envision what you're doing today enabling other companies and Facebook to make money?

Zuckerberg: Openness and transparency affects how people and businesses relate to each other. So it used to be the case where only really big companies could do advertising on the web, and then Google came along. And they made it so anyone can do basic direct response advertising. Now they have millions of advertisers. Right.

Zuckerberg: I think that there could be even a more dramatic change with Facebook. If you look at the space of the people who do brand advertising, which is basically advertising that's more for the long-term -- not to sell something today, but instead to build a relationship -- I think that that's going to be something that's not only accessible to the largest brands, but accessible to everyone.

If you take that idea a step further you might conclude that not only will it be something that's accessible to everyone, but something that everyone feels they have to participate in.

Think about what people are doing on Facebook today. They're keeping up with their friends and family, but they're also building an image and identity for themselves, which in a sense is their brand. They're connecting with the audience that they want to connect to. It's almost a disadvantage if you're not on it now.

If you carry that thinking over from people to things like stores and brands you realize that everyone's trying to do the same thing, which is communicate, build a reputation, build relationships with people, and just have more information out there. So give me an example. A year or two from now, what might you be able to do on Facebook that would be an example of what you're talking about -- if you're a small business. Or a large business, for that matter?

Zuckerberg: You should be able to connect to a business in the same way that you connect to a friend, or a person on the site, and then that business should be able to publish things in the same way that that happens for people you care about.

So, that was a big part of this whole streams release on the homepage that we just did. Now, it's not completely there yet, right? People are still bi-directional confirmed relationships while Facebook Pages (those for businesses and celebrities) have to be these one-directional relationships. People can send messages to each other. Facebook Pages can only send these updates to all their fans.

Over time we're going to see that those things are just going to converge completely, right? So a business or celebrity Page will be able to send a message to all their fans. At the same time they'll be able to send messages to individuals that they're connected to.

So no matter who you are -- a person on the site or a store, or a big brand -- you'll be able to have the same options for how you connect to people. You could make it bi-directional, so you have to confirm each one, or you could make it so people can just connect you. The part that makes sense to me is the small business part because I can understand wanting to have a relationship with my local butcher or dry cleaner.

It's harder for me to envision how that works with, say, The Gap, or any other big brand out there, because almost by definition people perceive those interactions as not being about relationships, but being about just pure commerce. You can make the case that your local butcher really cares about you and your relationship, but you can't really say that anymore about your local Home Depot or your bank.

Zuckerberg: Actually I think this is one of the most profound changes that more openness and transparency brings: It puts more weight and importance on building better social relationships and being more trustworthy.

So, I actually do think you're seeing this trend towards organizations just caring more about their brand and engaging. And so I think Home Depot will want to humanize itself. I think that's a lot of why companies are starting blogs, are just giving more insight into what's going on with them.

I think it's actually a big reason why a lot of companies are embracing the green movement, for example.

It's really easy to portray people running companies as only caring about money, but they care about real things too. And I think part of this trend is that there will be more visibility into that, right?

So the Home Depot will have a brand that is about what they sell -- different tools and things. But it will also have a brand that is based on their staff and how they relate to customers. And I think that that ends up being really important.

Look at the way celebrities and politicians are using Facebook already. When Ashton Kutcher posts a video, he gets hundreds of pieces of feedback. Maybe he doesn't have time to read them all or respond to them all, but he's getting good feedback and getting a good sense of how people are thinking about that and maybe can respond to some of it, right? And that's still really valuable. And I would expect a similar dynamic to evolve with businesses. People have been trying for years to make money selling ads on IMs, selling ads on e-mail, selling ads in all forms on communication mediums, But the reality is that when you're in communication mode, you're not particularly receptive to advertising. Why is that not an issue for Facebook?

Zuckerberg: Yeah, I agree with that. And I think the difference is that this isn't a pure communication medium. People use it to share information, but sharing is a bit different than communicating, right? Sharing is putting something out there, and then people are going and getting it asynchronously, right?

So a lot more of what we do is trying to surface the right information to the right people, which gives us leverage and opportunities to surface other information, like interesting advertisements that they might want to see as well.

But yeah, I agree that like when people are IM-ing on Facebook, which is one of the behaviors, it wouldn't make sense for us to have an ad in the IM, right? But when people go to their homepage in the morning to see what's going on, one of the things that's going on could be a sponsored thing.

I think a lot of the value that Facebook creates is that it opens up communication channels and builds relationships. I think that that's just a really valuable thing, and it has probably been undervalued to this point. Facebook's focus on real-time streams reminds me a little bit of TV before Tivo. If you're a business and you want people to see your brand and have a relationship with your brand in peoples' stream, you have to be looking at the stream at specific times. Doesn't that mean you have to start selling ads like networks do -- based on the size and type of audience at different times of the day?

Zuckerberg: There are different modalities. One is a real time element. There's also the highlights and news feeds components. And then you have search or behaviors where the person's actively seeking out some information.

We want to make that available to them very, very clearly. So, if I type in tools, then, I think that there's a good opportunity to show you things that your friends are connected to. And you're going to build the search stuff yourself, I would suspect.

Zuckerberg: Yes, or at least we'll try.

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Copyright 2009

All About Facebook Inc.

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