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Oct 17

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Web2Summit: Backstage with Mark Zuckerberg

A lot of people will be reporting on what Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has to say in his onstage interview with John Battelle here at the Web 2.0 Summit. I thought I'd share a few notes from by backstage conversation with Mark before I went on stage for the summit opener.

Here's the money quote (or rather paraphrase, since this is from memory):

We really need to move the thinking about the social graph. This exists out in the world, and has always existed. We didn't invent it. How can we "own" it? We're just trying to map it out. We have a model of the social graph that we're constructing.

Hmmm.... turns out Mark is saying much the same thing onstage. But it's great to know that Mark really believes this, that it's the heart of the company's DNA. (I do think that there are two views of the social graph, though, and how it gets deployed: there's a platform view in which it can be exploited to build smarter applications on Facebook; there's a deeper view in which the Facebook-discovered social graph can be accessed by other applications elsewhere on the net. Facebook's granular control of what information you reveal and to whom is thus a key part of the platform -- but the question is how far Facebook will go in letting other sites use this information. If Mark's answer is the first, Facebook is ultimately a closed platform; if the latter, it becomes a true open platform and value enabler.)

By contrast, a conversation with Chris DeWolfe of MySpace earlier in the day made clear that MySpace primarily thinks of itself as a media company. Chris bristled at the term "social graph," carefully substituting "friends list." His conversation focuses on the idea that MySpace is building a platform for people to manage their personal online presence. He points out quite correctly that MySpace has long been open to third party widgets -- all it's missing is the APIs. But I think there's more than that.

It seems to me that Facebook really is thinking much more broadly about the future of the net, and seeing their platform as a kind of exploration of its potential. Onstage, Mark remarks that what they're doing might take tens of years before it's finished. He also explicitly says that he doesn't see Facebook as a media company.

By contrast, he points out that Facebook is a deeply technical company. Computing the news feed to find the most relevant news from a social network is a really hard problem. He revels in that idea.

I'm really impressed.

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Alexander van Elsas   [10.17.07 11:21 PM]

The "quote" from Mark shows to me exactly what is wrong with Facebook and their executives. They can never "own" something that is not theirs in the first place. The only way a social graph will be meaningful to its usersis if it can be truly open. If Facebook will try to leverage "their" social graph (the users created it!), they will make the same monetizing mistake all over again. Instead, they should be thinking about providing the user value. MOnetizing something is always easier with a user centric focus. Provide value to the user, and you get it back.

Thomas Lord   [10.17.07 11:52 PM]

The "social graph" has not "always existed" except among children.

Among very young children in small environments there is often a social graph. Everyone knows that A is B's "best friend" and that C and D are "enemies," etc. The labels have totemic signficance for a while. Successful, happy people (at least) tend to get over it -- or at least morph it into the nuanced complexities of adult relationships that can't meaningfully be reduced to tags like "friend" and "colleague" except when those tags are used merely in passing.

And so, if Zuckerberg's graphs aren't modeling something natural, they must be building something new and, since he's inciting mob behavior, we all have a stake in looking closely at what exactly is being built and whether it's such a good idea.

But if we're stuck in some namby pamby world of equivocations like "people have always formed societies therefore there's always been this kind of social graph" then we're lost.


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