Sean Parker Sees Few Facebook Challenges

It 'would have to screw up royally' to lose social network race

Can anyone stop Facebook? The company's first president Sean Parker says it's possible—but not likely.

Parker was a last-minute replacement for Zynga CEO Mark Pincus on Monday at the Web 2.0 Summit. When asked about competitors like Google+ and Twitter (Parker just joined Twitter), he said that "it's very tough to compete with network effects"—it's hard to convince people to switch when all their friends are already on Facebook. That doesn't mean the site is invincible, but "Facebook would have to screw up royally" to lose that lead.

Interviewer John Battelle also asked Parker if there was anything he would change about Facebook. At first, Parker laughed and noted that he's a  shareholder, so it's hard for him to answer the question honestly. Still, Battelle kept pressing until Parker offered one answer: Facebook needs to give users more control over what information they see and share. The company's "power users" are facing a "glut of information," he said, and while those people are only a minority of the total user base, they are "propping up the network" by creating most of the updates that everyone else is reads, so it's important not to lose them to other sites. Recent changes to the news feed are a step in the right direction, he said.

Parker hasn't been involved in the day-to-day operation of Facebook for a while. He said that he now divides his time evenly between social music startup Spotify (where Parker is an investor through the Founders Fund) and his mysterious new startup with fellow Napster co-founder Shaun Fanning called Airtime. One of Spotify's key features is its integration with Facebook (something that Parker celebrated with a lavish party after Facebook's F8 conference), and the New York Post recently reported that Parker and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg got into a loud argument about the details of that partnership. Parker denied the rumor, saying he and Zuckerberg are always talking about these issues, but that they've never gotten into a screaming argument.

"I love this story because it shows the potential for just one little minute, irrelevant, largely incorrect rumor to spark this enormous explosion in the press," Parker said, adding that he generally ends up becoming "the victim of these platforms" that he's involved in creating.