Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Yep, Beacon Was A Mistake


As promised, Mark Zuckerberg’s D interview came and went without any booing or hissing. Also absent: Anything of much interest, save for the fact that we got to see how a 24-year-old paper billionaire comports himself in front of a high-end, high-powered audience.

The nuggets:

  • Beacon was a mistake
  • Mark insists that Facebook is a technology company, not a media company.
  • He professes disinterest in either a Microsoft sale or an IPO.

Transcript follows, video highlights at end.


Two things we can tell you in advance about Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance at the D conference: It is almost certainly going to go a bit smoother than his last high-profile conference appearance. And he won’t be wearing his trademark sandals — he’s been wandering the halls of the Four Seasons for the past two days in some kind of loafers. Oh — and for the record: newish COO Sheryl Sandberg’s coming onstage with Mark, too.

Kara talking about how much she likes to write about Facebook. Sheryl “Yeah, we noticed”. More about Kara: Apologizes for calling Mark “Toddler CEO”. Will now call him “24-year-old CEO”. Still waiting for question. Coming….coming…coming…OK: “What is Facebook right now?”

Zuckerberg: We help people share themselves. With photos and stuff like that.

K: Right, but everything you do is replicated throughout the Web. So what’s different.

Z: Distribution — they can share with their network. This trend of people sharing about themselves online has been around “forever”. Like back when I was in high school (in the 90s). AOL was something that was interesting to me when I was in high school. I hacked stuff on AOL back then. A lot of my friends learned how to develop things by building stuff on top of AOL.

K: You got instant attention when you moved to the Valley. What was that like?

Z: Didn’t get that much attention when we started. When we got to 30 colleges, decided to invest one summer. Wanted to get away from Harvard. I have a funny story about that — but not sharing it. Came to Valley for the summer, never left.

K: So what’s the funny story?

Z: Blank look.

K: How was college for you. How much did your experience parallel Bill Gates time there?

Z: I skipped a core curriculum class about Rome so I could build Facebook. In time for the final project, I built a “study tool” with links, and somehow got my fellow students to do my work for me.

K: That’s like “Stone Soup

Z: I don’t get that reference.

K: Sheryl, let’s talk about you!

S: Goes thru resume: Harvard, Bain McKinsey, Harvard MBA, Treasury dept under Clinton — also has a funny story about that but won’t share it, “that not being the topic for today.”

K: OK, enough about that. Back to Mark. Did you have a business card that said. “I’m the CEO, bitch”.

Z: That was a joke someone made for me.

K: Why are you sticking around? Why not get company going and hand off to pro manager?

Z: We’re building a bunch of stuff. Let’s us build lots of things that let people share, share, share. Share, share, share.

K: That’s not really an answer.

Z: We’re only four years in. Building a team.

K: What have you learned about the?

Z: Share, share, share. Give people control, and they’ll share more information about themselves. You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you: “Beacon was a big mistake for us”, in a lot of different ways. But we learned an important lesson about giving people more control.

K: Was Beacon really a mistake? Seems like a worthwhile experiment.

Z: Yes. The UI could have been better and we needed to be clearer.

K: Sheryl, why did you come aboard?

S: Exciting, etc. Also, been at Google 6.5 years.

K: You opened up platform. Super smart idea. Talk about that, what worked, what didn’t.

Z: (Gotta say, think Mark overpracticed for this one. Have heard “share information in different ways” way too many times already.) We didn’t build a music feature because we figured the Web had plenty. But iLike a huge hit on FB. Same with games. So that’s interesting.

K: OK. What’s with widgets. Why aren’t they useful?

Z: Things that don’t look useful can actually be useful.

S: If millions of people are using these apps, doesnt’ that make them valuable?

K: OK, so they’re entertaining. But how do you translate that into a “new advertising paradigm” like the one Mark talked about last fall?

S: Majority of online spend is demand fufillment. You know what you want, you seek it out. But most advertising is demand creation, and no one really knows how to do that online. But I think FB can figure this out – we know lots about users, and can use that data to work with advertisers to provide them with great stuff. We can also work with engagement. Ben & Jerry’s promotion where users sent 500,000 free cones to each other. Within 24 hours, we created 53 million impression for Ben & Jerry’s. Not all advertising on FB has that opportunity. But it’s a pretty unique opportunity.

K: You’re a media company.

Z: No, we’re a technology company.

K: No, you’re a media company: You build an audience, and sell it to advertisers.

Z: Nope. Technology. That’s what we’re focused on – building technology, building things.

S: We think technology can speed up interactions between consumers and advertisers.

K: Talk about upcoming change in platform.

Z: Original platform was designed around people installing boxes. (Basically, saying too much clutter). Moving away from “box-based” system. Now applications that are more engaging and that users trust more are going to spread through the system.

K: Company’s growing up. That must be hard on original employees as you scale, brining in pro managers. How’s that going?

Z: Hmm.

S: I’m making trains run on time.

K: Want to sell to MSFT?

Z: No, you know that by now.

K: Seriously? What do you want? What if they offer $15B?

Z: Non-answer. End goal for us isn’t to sell or IPO. It’s to help the users.

K: Can they sell without your say-so?

Z: I don’t think so.

K: Actually, they can’t. Many people can learn from you, in that respect. Anyway, how’s the Microsoft relationship going?

S: I was just there [in Redmond]. At Google, you don’t normally go up to see Microsoft. Partnerships are important.

K: How’s Google relationship?

Z: We talk all the time. Really, we do. Eric and Larry came over to my apartment, but I didn’t have enough furniture, so Eric sat on the floor. But seriously, love to work with them. Would be good to talk to them about OpenSocial and things like like. Will have to see how that evolves. We want to help “users share information in different ways.”

K: Where do you imagine yourself in 5 years?

Z: Want to help people “share more information”

Q from the awesome Barry Sonnenfeld: My 15-year-old daughter is on your site, has no sense of privacy. Do you feel that you’re creating a generation where there’s no fear of government, no fear of loss of privacy — a “sad, dreary future for our children”?

Z: Share, share, share. Share, share, share. You can set up filters, setting so you can figure out who you want to share, share, share your information with. And even though it seems like daughter doesn’t care, a huge amount of our users are tweaking their settings. So they’re aware of it.

Q: What are you doing for oldsters like me, who are more than twice your age?

Z: What we’re doing should be applicable to people all over the world, no matter how old they are. I was just in Istanbul. I watched people use Facebook there. People have built local apps there. I didn’t understand them, because I don’t speak the language. But that’s what we’re interested in them.

Q: Name 3 apps you’d like to see that don’t exist.

Z: Something for sports would be interesting. A ton of people are interested in that. Also politics. Also religon.

Q: How open are you, exactly, compared to the likes of Ning?

Z: Relatively open, increasing as time goes on.

Q: Joe Menn from LA Times. I worry about apps looking at my personal information. Do you police that?

S: You have the option of giving the developer the info, so they can make it useful. We have strict policies. We’ve seen violations, and violaters get suspended. We police them, and the community polices them for us.

Q: I’ve got 500 Facebook friends that I don’t really know. I’m not really sure what I’m sharing with them. Can I have “friends” and “acquiantances”? And what about Facebok fatigue in general.

Z: We’re giving people tools to categorize their friends.