June 04, 2010
Facebook's Zuckerberg On Privacy, Plug-Ins & Personalization
People were anxious to see Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg on the D Conference stage this past Wednesday night, where Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher interviewed him in front of several hundred movers and shakers in the technology industry. The eagerness was no grave surprise given the recent surge of media attention around Facebook's privacy policies.
At the end of the day, it's not just about whether your privacy settings are in place, it's about ensuring consumers know about them and prompting them to proactively set them up in a way where they feel their privacy is protected.
Kara asks Zuckerberg, "is there a level of privacy that applies to everyone?" Far too scripted and programmed, he starts off with a statement that suggests Faceook takes privacy seriously. Hmmmm, starting when you heard you were going to be on stage in front of some pretty influential people?
He dodges the real issue, which again, is not so much whether a policy is in place, but proactively letting consumers know they should check their privacy settings again and again, and proactively letting consumers know where and how their data will be used, again and again. And, making it dead simple to understand what the settings mean for each feature.
Zuckerberg reminds the audience that simple privacy control has always been part of Facebook from the beginning. He throws out a stat to support his claim - "more than 50% of Facebook users has changed a privacy setting at some point while on Facebook. It's a signal that on a whole, we've got it right." Hmmmm, I'd say they've got it right when that 50% number moves to 90% or higher.
Kara asks, "do you think that it's just a backlash? Do you feel that you're violating people's privacy?"
Another dodging of the bullet. "Now," says Zuckerkberg, "we're trying to extend things outside Facebook. We want to build people-centric apps so we're doing more social plug-ins, which means you can easily and quickly insert a single line of code into your site, adding personalization in a matter of minutes." He adds, "over 200,000 sites have started to use social plug-ins and social engagement has gone up two fold. Personalization is the other side - we're trying to make it so that all these sites are designed around people, with people at the core.
At one point, he went back to the original story of how and where Facebook started in his college dorm room, obviously an awkward moment where he felt uncomfortable in his skin, or at least his skin in front of hundreds of eyes and ears who wanted some hard answers. It was out of context and his meandering at times made him sound and look defensive. I wished he did the right PR move in this situation, which was frankly just to address the situation head on, be authentic, talk about what happened and what they plan to do to fix things moving forward.
I was thinking - 'instead of an overly rehearsed script, just engage us Mark.' Perhaps something along the lines of: "you know, we made some mistakes. This is where we went wrong, this is what we did wrong, this is what we learned and what we could have done differently. That said, we care about our customers, we're listening to them, we made a mistake, we're addressing it, turning the boat 180 degrees and we're on board. We understand that privacy is an important issue and that people view it differently in various parts of the world. As our user base grows around the world, we recognize that everyone has a different view of what privacy is, what content they want to show, to who and when. We get that, are learning from our customers along the way and will continue to adapt and adopt as we learn more. We heard you! Onward team of Facebook loyalists and fans. Together, let's move forward."
Perhaps a tad dramatic, but you get my point. Be AUTHENTIC, be honest and show your true colors so we can get a sense of whether we can trust you as the man leading the charge. I'd also add, unveil what's under the hood, and I don't mean his infamous hoodie, I mean the soul of his hood. On that note, he began to sweat and took off his hoodie while people snapped photos (as if he was George Clooney). Did I miss something?
The hoodie comes off
All that said, his voice had strength despite the meandering throughout and he did manage to get one rehearsed mantra right - one of their core values, which is that they are focused on people and that they're building things that will continue to put people at the core. He says, "when you go to a site like Pandora or Yelp, it's not immediately clear what you're going to get. We're doing a push around plug-ins and personalization - we think all these apps should have people central at the core.
"But," Walt pipes in and pushes back, "shouldn't people have a choice. Shouldn't they be making the decision?"
Zuckerberg returns to their core offering and value-add. "The direction that we're going is to build and drive apps around people. Yelp is an interesting example - there, what you really want is to see is what the friends you trust and like suggest, what they're connected to and why and what they give a thumbs up to."
Walt asks - "what is the social graph and how can it be monetized in a way that is fair so people can be included in it?" Says Zuckerberg, "it was our way of explaining what was happening in the world. We were just trying to map out the connections that people were having. We wanted to enable this broader platform so people can build games, and personalize things for them."
Kara asks, "how do you view your role in the graph? What kind of power are you in the graph?" Zuckerberg responds, "I think people rely on us to stay connected to their friends and people see us as the leader in that space. Having a half a billion users is certainly a milestone we're proud of - we're actually at the beginning not at the end. We grow because people refer their friends to the site. Everyone who signs up does so because a friend has referred them to the site. We'll continue to do what we think are the right changes, even if some are controversal."
They dive into the social graph a bit more. Walt asks, "how does the social graph become monetized?" Zuckerberg says, "the advertising will get much more relevant than in a lot of other systems really quickly. There are a lot of ads in the system so there's more to draw from. The other piece is around engagement and ads reflect that as well. A good example is what we're doing with Starbucks. The ad was designed to give free stuff away and people invited their friends to the Starbucks event." It turns out, at least in this case, that people are getting their friends involved in a company's events on the site which is really great for the brand.
Karas asks Zuckerberg whether he'll be the CEO when they go public. "YES," he says, and adds "the next two years will be more transformative than last two. There's so much we're doing around personalization and plug-ins and we're only at the beginning. There's so much still to do."
He wraps up by talking about the importance and growth of SMS, which he says is much more interesting than email. Insight into other things they're working on? He emphasizes how more and more people are posting status updates than blog posts."There's a huge opportunity to work on services that fuse shorter forms of communication and less formal stuff together." A valid point Mark and despite my earlier rant, he had a few good ones. He's no dummy - and clearly the man has passion. He just needs to loosen up a bit more and FEEL his audience rather than go on the defense, even when things heat up.
Zuckerberg's lack of experience and youth may be a detriment at times like this but hey, as as they say from a place of wisdom about the long road of life -it's all but a journey my friend. And let's face it, it's all about the journey; that dramatic, joyous and often bumpy journey of growth is the reward. Once you realize that, the wanna, shoulda, coulda, whata just fades away into the background like the unimportant noise it really is.
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