I’m here at the Web 2.0 Summit 2007 in San Francisco, the third year I’ve been to the conference. Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle started out with an overview of web 2.0 now; and one thing they noted is that social networking has moved from an ‘edge’ technology to a center technology. John Battelle then invited founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, onto the stage to discuss this topic. Mark came across as an awkward young man (and to be totally fair, he is very young), so the first 5 minutes didn’t offer much insight. Eventually though Zuckerberg warmed up, especially when Battelle asked him to define ‘social graph’. Zuckerberg said “it’s the set of conenctions that a person has in the world” and that Facebook is simply trying to map this. He said it’s about exposing peoples connections, but respecting peoples privacy.
Battelle asked about the Facebook platform. Zuckerberg said that “it’s incredibly humbling to see all these people build on top of a platform that’s still early stage”. He said it might take “tens of years” before the platform is mature, so launching the platform this year was a “quick start” (i.e. they just wanted to get it out there and iterate). Battelle asked how can developers be sure that their apps won’t be taken offline in the future? Zuckerberg said that the site is evolving very fast, so they need to make sure there’s enough flexibility in the system. That didn’t answer the question, so Battelle persisted with the topic – noting that Microsoft essentially built a platform too, but they went on to “colonize” it. So will Facebook do the same? Zuckerberg said maybe with ads (!) He said that Facebook “reserves the right to build apps on the platform”.
Like a dog with a bone, Battelle asked what kind of advertising system Facebook will build – will they compete with Microsoft and Google, outside the FB ecosystem. Zuckerberg didn’t bite and had no answer.
Battelle asked: what about media? Zuckerberg said “we’re not really a media company”, so it’s unlikely they’ll build media apps. He said they’ll stick to social networking functionality.
Later, Marc Canter got in the first question – he asked will Facebook release APIs that allow users to export their social graph and other personal data. Marc says Facebook isn’t “all the way open” – will that change? Zuckerberg says “we want to get there” and that’s their goal. He cited how FB started off just being for US college studemts, then opened up to world, then to the platform for apps inside FB. He says “we realize this is a flaw in the system”, but he didn’t give a timeframe (despite Marc’s questions around exactly that).
Charlene Li asked: many of the FB apps today are “frivalous”, so is Mark happy about that? Zuckerberg reiterated that it’s still very early, but that many verticals have been filled in already. He says it’s amazing to him that they have 6000 apps already. The other part of Li’s question was what kind of apps does he want built? Zuckerberg said that he hopes more apps that go outside personal and social media will be built – e.g. health.
Battelle’s last question is “at some time or another you’ve got to bring in a grown-up”, so will FB do that? Zuckerberg says they’re focusing on “building a really good team” (great side-step!).