A confident yet humble Mark Zuckerberg took the stage on Tuesday at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco to discuss thorny issues such as consumer privacy, drawing the interest of the federal government and taking on Google.
About the only thing that gave him pause was advertising—specifically the idea that Facebook is plotting some sort of massive ad network through the distribution of its Connect and Like buttons all over the Web.
The young CEO momentarily froze when asked about exporting its ad business; then delivered one of the bigger understatements in the online ad business: “We’re getting started with ads,” he said. “We’re ramping up well. We have a lot left to do.”
When pressed, Zuckerberg said, “I don’t think about exporting ad systems.”
What Zuckerberg does spend a lot of time thinking about is privacy, an area where he admitted he does not have all the answers. Moderator/conference host John Battelle pushed Zuckerberg on the idea that Facebook doesn’t ask permission when it comes to privacy, just forgiveness.
In response, Zuckerberg called Facebook’s privacy policies “gray” and “not completely a black-and-white thing.”
“When we think about this, there is information [on Facebook] that is clearly yours and there is information that is somewhere in the middle,” he said, referencing photos of users that are taken by friends but viewed by nonfriends. “I’m not sure we’re 100 percent right on this,” Zuckerberg added.
Facebook’s natural inclination is to be as open as possible, and Zuckerberg believes that others will see the value of openness over time. But right now “the feedback we get on a day-to-day basis is ‘we want control.’ We’re mediating that tension,” he added.
During the lively interview session, Zuckerberg also provided some rationale behind Facebook’s new messaging tool (high school kids think e-mail is slow), and his overall philosophy on what features Facebook is planning to build (only core functionality—not social music apps, for example).
Zuckerberg also predicted that the majority of industries would be impacted by social media over the next five years—which will lead to continued disruption of business models. He used the example of gaming, where a company like Zynga, the producer of FarmVille, now rivals EA (Madden Football). “All verticals will be completely rethought,” he said.
But perhaps Zuckerberg’s most winning moment wasn’t industry related. Near the close of the session, an audience member asked him about what it was like to succeed at such a young age. “I’ve made so many mistakes,” he said. “Anything you can think of…if you can build a product people love, you can make a lot of mistakes[.]…Focus on building products people like.”
While Zuckerberg’s star power drew the biggest, most adoring crowd at Web 2.0, it was the previous session featuring venture capitalists Fred Wilson, managing partner at Union Square Ventures, and John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, that served as the event’s top highlight thus far.
The two VCs unleashed their opinions on a tech startup space that Wilson saw as “overheated” and Doerr viewed “more like a boom.” Among the most interesting quotes:
• Wilson: “This is a frothy time that will finance a lot of great ideas. We don’t need to finance a lot of ‘me toos.’”
• Doerr: “The IPO window is open. Good companies can go public. Others can’t.”
• Wilson: “Only great companies should go public.”
• Doerr: “Zynga is the largest, most profitable, rapidly growing company…we’ve ever seen.”
• Wilson: “Android will be the dominant platform on mobile, not Apple. Apple has created the cable system. It’s not even close to the World Wide Web.”
• Doerr: “Apple broke through the gated walls of the carriers…they’ve written developers billions in checks.”
• Wilson: “It’s not an unstoppable juggernaut…people want to do more than they do on Facebook…it’s not going to take over the Web.”
• Doerr: “Zynga shows what a power platform Facebook is.”
• Wilson: “Only one great company has been built on Facebook. What else is there?”
• Wilson: “They are the great acquirer. There last homegrown product is Gmail.”