ISA 2011: Fireside Chat with Facebook CTO Bret Taylor

Facebook chief technology officer Bret Taylor is on stage here at Inside Social Apps. He’s being interviewed by Inside Network founder Justin Smith.

The live transcript (paraphrased in parts and edited for brevity)

JS: How was the last year?

BT: Going in, we were trying to build a scalable solution to distribution and spam. Not all users liked how it had worked. We cut the number of policies in half, cut spam by 95%. Also cut human interaction with app developers at the same time. Went into the year with those goals. Coming into the end of the year, we doubled down to reintroduce growth. We added changes to communication channels [Ed. like third party notifications]. There were successes like CityVille.

JS: Can Facebook do a good job for people who want it to be a games platform, and those who don’t?

BT: We’re closer to that vision by an order of magnitude. People who play games on Facebook aren’t self-described gamers. Just like people who play solitaire don’t describe themselves as hardcore gamers. Not just partitioning. Way to make sure that every piece of content, every interaction has quality we can provide. Even though you might not be a hardcore gamer, you might like to play a lot. Added in notifications because we felt more confident about our systems. We’re largest source of traffic now for the most sites on the web.

JS: Does Facebook want games on Facebook?

BT: Absolutely. It’s about baking social into core interactions.

JS: Many developers are focused on mobile. Obviously Facebook has spent a lot of time building mobile relationships. At the same time, some challenges with making social really work well in mobile app environment. What does Facebook plan to do?

BT: Mobile is primary focus for our platform this year. People who use mobile are twice as active as those who just use on desktop. That portion of our user base is growing quite a bit. Really like to extend Facebook to all mobile devices. Either building console game on Playstation 3, building iPhone app, or mobile web site, web site, Facebook available for all of them.

About reducing friction. We launched single sign-on a few months ago. Next time you go to another app, you don’t need to re-implement password. Flixster has seen 300% increase in signups just from that change. People building canvas, also building mobile version, can bring with high conversion rate.

JS: Any other product stuff?

BT: What else is changing for developers? How can devs make sure users don’t bail out when they come to Facebook? When we update Facebook, we ahve to update seven different versions:,,, iPhone app, Android app, Blackberry app, and a bunch from people who have built custom versions into their own OSs. Incredible challenge. You end up picking and choosing platforms even though your goal is to reach everyone. Most people in Silicon Valley believe in HTML5. Maybe we’re a little ahead of the curve. 125M using HTML5 with mobile Facebook already. Compelling, even graphically compelling, become more mature platform. We’re going to be investing a lot in investing in HTML5 products, releasing more tools here for developers. Help people get distribution.

JS: So, you’re cleaning up HTML5 for developers?

BT: We want to make sure that user experience is awesome. Lots of quirks with newer techs like HTML5. Thanks to tremendous investment by Apple and Google into Webkit, but still a ways to go. We feel that this is really the direction we want to go.

JS: Anything in particular that Apple and Google are doing?

BT: Can’t say enough about those two investing in browsers. Really great.

JS: Anything in particular?

BT: Still a number of things you can do in native apps that you can’t do in browsers. Latest iPhone gives mobile apps access to accelerometer for example.

JS: Facebook has emphasized different things, from canvas in 08 to open graph last year. Mobile for 2011?

BT: Doubled down on canvas. Built social apps. This year we view the growth of mobile as something we want to invest in more, building the team around it.

JS: What about Deals? How’s the working?

BT: Happy with it.

JS: Without more details on those products, what should developers be thinking?

BT: Mobile is inherently social. Already filled with contacts. Primary function is communication device. Location. My sense is those that build experiences with platforms in mind. Applications that are optimized for mobile and social altogether — we’ll continue to see really innovative apps. Really fluid integration.

JS: Open Graph launched months ago. Has meant that Facebook is getting a lot of data about people’s interests across the web. How is Facebook using that data for ad targeting, search, other information?

BT: Not about Facebook getting the data, about helping people share. About helping people connect.

JS: People thinking about building for social commerce, Ads API. Any more context around other opportunities?

BT: Two primary ways to help people use the social platform. Use distribution. But also personalization. You can use Likes and Interests to personalize site. A little less sexy than growth rate, but about creating sustainable business. That’s really compelling. Really great for all the apps you do. Clicker is a good example.

JS: What about what Facebook is planning?

BT: Making life easier, helping developers to do the right thing. To the degree that we can build APIs. Simplest way to use them is the right way to use them.

JS: Obviously Facebook’s approach to the platform has had to evolve. Some people in the audience have spoken with the policy team, Friday at 5:30.

BT: Automating detection, like controlling spam. Over time, we’d like to continue to increase. Really simple feedback, emails from people, like regulating interactions. Think we’ve made a lot of

JS: Some pretty severe punishments on developers in October. Seen a decrease since then?

BT: Last year we reduced spam by 95%, reduced other, also reduced enforcement actions.

Audience question: With latest round of funding, IPO, interesting to me that Microsoft has been pretty absent in terms of conversations. If you had a chance to sit down with Bill Gates.

BT: Did a good job of building developer team, always focused on that. We think about it the same way. Gates would also ask me “who are you?”

Audience question: Been a lot of growth of video platforms, users using video. What is on the roadmap to raise that growth. Lot of photos. What more opportunities?

BT: What new products? Build new products into Facebook that will have more impact to the platform. Why we built location. Why we felt it would have impact. In terms of video, enabling people to share privately more effectively. One of the most common uses — family groups, mailings lists, lots of photo and video sharing. As we hone sharing, we’ll see increased sharing.

Audience question: How is Facebook going to improve location, such as making it searchable?

BT: High quality location databases has been a painpoint for developers; I worked on Google Maps and it was a pain then, pain now. We’re looking to provide a suite of location services that makes it easier to develop on.

JS: How long for it to build usable database?

BT: No intuition, but something that is core focus of team as we expand internationally. One of the interesting things is that a lot of locations being added by users.

Audience question: Advice for small and medium sized developers in face of lack of documentation on API.

BT: Improving now, long way to go as illustrated by the clapping in the API. In the spirit of building up the platform team, that’s one of the teams that we’re building up — also working on forum posts and bug reports. Hopefully significant improvement in last six months.