In Depth: New Facebook CTO Bret Taylor Discusses Platform Governance, Social Gaming, Viral Channels, and Credits

Five weeks ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appointed Bret Taylor, who joined the company when Facebook acquired FriendFeed in August 2009, as its new CTO. We sat down with Taylor to talk about Facebook’s vision for the future of the Facebook Platform, and how it’s affecting everything the company is doing.

Taylor shares his thoughts on the state of the Platform, new ways developers should expect Platform governance to evolve in the months ahead, the new group at Facebook that is responsible for the health of the games ecosystem, new types of communication channels that Facebook may launch, and the Credits rollout transition. In the second part of this interview, coming tomorrow, Taylor discusses the the state of the Open Graph Protocol and Facebook’s long term Platform vision as it relates to mobile and regional growth.

Taylor is moving from his role has the head of Platform to CTO at a time when Facebook is nearing 500 million monthly active users as a whole, over 1 million websites have integrated Facebook functionality in some form, and social gaming companies on the Facebook Platform are earning hundreds of millions of dollars in overall revenues this year.

Justin Smith: What are you focusing on in your new role as CTO, and how have your responsibilities changed?

Bret Taylor: My job practically speaking hasn’t changed much yet because there’s a transition period, and the platform is one of the core parts of the company. So until we find someone to fill a lot of the stuff that I was doing on Platform, that’s probably still my 85% focus.

I was the cross functional lead for the Platform group, meaning I reviewed product direction, to some degree technical decisions, and partner strategy. It’s a big cross functional group, and we have a great team working on it and a pretty good roadmap, so I’ve been able to start working on a few other projects. Right now my focus will be on product for technology and the end user, which are very intertwined, like news feed, search, and platform. The algorithm that enables a particular UI is as important as the UI itself. Those are a mix of technologies and products, and that’s always been where my passion is. Now I’m also getting more involved with the technology, which is the main change from before.

One of the things I asked Mark a couple a weeks ago was how do you feel like the Platform has evolved today in terms of the alignment of incentives between developers, users, and Facebook?

This is one area where we’re investing a lot in technology to improve that balance. One of the things that has happened with our platform over the last six months is we’ve had increasing frustration from our longest standing game developers in particular about changes we’ve made to the platform to accomplish various user interface goals. For example, a couple of months ago we made a revision to Events, and as a part of that we put the event creation workflow at the top right of the home page. That moved requests down the page by some number of pixels, which significantly impacted the conversion rate on requests, and that was one of those instances where we weren’t thinking about the system holistically enough. We were making a very reasonable product update in isolation from the rest of the system.

There’s a few big initiatives going on right now which I think will significantly improve the sanity of our developers and improve the product. To date, we have relied on policy and enforcement to accomplish a lot of our product goals around the platform. Where are the buttons, what are the incentives you can put in place, stuff like that. They all are very solid incentives, but at the same time, it’s somewhat like the IRS tax code. The people who understand it the best can get away with the most, and the people who are new to the platform are overwhelmed with its complexity. We have evolved our thinking on that and think if we had better automated systems to detect bad behaviors and prevent the delivery of bad messages, we could reduce the number of policies significantly.

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