Interview with David Kirkpatrick, Author – “The Facebook Effect”

This article is the continuation of my converation with David Kirkpatrick. In the earlier article, we spoke about the Importance of Cloud Services. If you are interested in that area, I would recommend you read that conversation here

For Folks who have landed directly on this page – Last week I was there at the NASSCOM Infrastructure Management Summit here in Bangalore, where I was invited to have a chat with David Kirkpatrick in the evening.

David KirpatrickDavid Kirkpatrick – David for many years was the senior editor for Internet and technology at Fortune magazine. While at Fortune, he wrote cover stories about Apple, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sun, and numerous other technology subjects. He created the Fortune’s Brainstorm conference series. More recently, he organized the Techonomy conference on the centrality of technology innovation for all human activity. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and appears frequently on television, radio, and the Internet as an expert on technology. He is also the author of the book – “The Facebook Effect: The inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World”.

Over to the interview –

Vijay – I was a big fan of Orkut, when I was out of college. I found a lot of my friends there. I used to go to their scrapbook, write comments, join communities, discuss in forums etc.., and then there was this paradigm shift for me towards Facebook. After being here for a while, I really do not want to get back to Orkut now. I guess, that’s the case with quite a few people. Why do you think, Facebook was able to create this kind of an Impact on a user? What are the reasons for its success to reach 50 million users in such a short span?

David – There is a whole lot of answers to that. I think the single biggest answer, why Facebook has stolen the thunder from Orkut, MySpace, Friendster and other services is that, it’s more a technologically sophisticated service and evolves itself as a product more rapidly. It’s only the paranoid survive approach. Andy Grove is the one who said that and I think Zuckerberg absolutely operates that way. He really believes that, if Facebook remains static for very long, someone is going to come up its tail-pipe and eat it. Orkut despite been owned by Google has not had that kind of aggressive evolving mentality. I think, even though people complain about the changes on Facebook, the quality of the Facebook product has remained the state of the art from the beginning. I mean, today it’s most seen in the platform, which now extends to the entire internet. Orkut does not have anything like that. Facebook says that, its ‘Facebook Connect’ and ‘Open Graph API’ – has been implemented in over a million sites. That’s after that, it was just launched in April, 5 months later, it’s over a million sites. The other sites are trying to copy those things, but Facebook is just more sophisticated as a product and leverages as a platform.

Vijay – I agree on it David. In fact, even I have a Facebook widget on my weblog at the end of every article and It really works. Well, I have been hearing Zuckerberg more times from your mouth; can you talk about him a little? How does he work? Is he planning for an IPO for Facebook?

David – Fundamentally, beside all the platform benefits which Facebook offers, I think all of that flows from Zuckerberg’s basic mindset, and he has the absolute control of the Facebook. He has an absolute dictatorial control, unlike any other social networking company. His mindset has always been that, we want to make Facebook for everybody, everybody on the planet. Everything he does and all of his decisions are based around that long term vision. “Make it to reach more people and making it more stable, how to market it and how to position it and virally extend it”. I don’t think, any other social network has that kind of passion and intensity about growth. And because of that, they have this software centricity, this simplicity of interface design and all these other features.  The fact that, Zuckerberg has been so dubious about advertising has kept Facebook feeling relatively non-commercial and it’s simple. It’s kept its interface quite clean., and that’s something he believes in very deeply.  The Google Success was built on top of the most bare bone interface you’ve ever seen, and Facebook came along with somewhat similar approach, with far more complex architecture in reality but still kept it look simpler. Kept the ads to the bare minimum, and what i think that did is, not only made it look cool and clean, it made people feel that, it could be for anyone and everyone. So it didn’t have the feeling of just being for kids, it was so neutral that, anyone felt that they can use it and that has been the key to its growth. I think, he is also kind of acknowledging the idea of an IPO, in order to give the employees more liquidity….but not right away, may be in 2012.

Vijay – What would be the business model for Facebook? Where and how do you think, they can make money from?

David – I think the long term business model for Facebook will arise from distributing ads as a part of the platform, as a part of the Facebook connect social API, and open Graph APIs. When you think about it, Today in your blog, you have a like button, there is no reason why, Facebook couldn’t come to you and say, “Hey we know the people, who are coming to your site and liking the contents, we know their gender, their geographic location, why not you let us sell ads for you and target them to those people with a percentage revenue sharing model?”,  With around a million sites having implemented it, it would be almost impossible for you to refuse this offer. You might now probably use Google AdSense or any ad network; I think, Facebook ads might be more effective, especially when you have the like button or a fan page widget. That to me is the biggest business opportunity which they haven’t even started to take the advantage of, they haven’t even done it yet.

Vijay – I am really amazed of the way, how Twitter and Facebook has pushed all the companies towards social Media. I am not aware of any company now, which doesn’t have a Twitter handle or a Facebook page.  Their interaction with the people has just changed.  The feedback mechanism and support is getting too easy these days. It’s nice to see Nestle and other folks, interact to people via their fan page.

David – Oh yeah. Indeed, Nestle got into some kinda trouble earlier, until they realized and came back soft on their Facebook page. So I agree. This is changing the way, people think about business and communications.

Vijay – I see that, we can have more than one pages for the same brand or product, are you aware of any process that, Facebook makes it a Verified Page? Pretty much similar to Twitter Verified profiles.

David – I am not aware on any process of that kind as of now. However, you can always go to the company’s website and see what link they point to! Also, Facebook only approves canonical URLs for pages which has an embed code or widget added to a website/blog. So that could be one way to find the right one. I will post this feedback to them.

Vijay – Sometimes, a feature which comes in very handy and helpful for me is Facebook Chat. Though it’s not a highly sophisticated chat engine, it does the job for me. Now, are my chats stored somewhere? Few days back there were some issue regarding the Blackberry chat option, being used for terrorist activities. What is the Facebook’s Standpoint on this, as I don’t see these chats saved somewhere?

David – Well, Facebook is not saving the chat history and is not making it available. However If police has a proper legal channel to ask, as the platform and architecture is more extensive and open for changes, Facebook can give that data to the Police and Government if needed. But they don’t give routine access to Government as it is contrary to the company’s general law. But they must re-think about it, if Zuckerberg targets on entering China.

Vijay – What do you think, would be a nice feature to add on Facebook?

David – Friendgroup is something which Facebook needs. Sometimes, you tend to add people whom you meet. But, you want to see updates only from few. For example,   More about families and friends, and less about people whom you added.., just because you didn’t wanted to tell a no. Also this group must be easily manageable. Kavitha also popped in with an idea of having a dislike or thumbs-down option for the people who put nonsense status message would be a nice addition.  at least it would cut a lot of crap!

Vijay – What do you think if Twitter comes up with Promotional Tweets as one of their business model? Would that work?

David – That could be offensive, we don’t perceive twitter to be a kind of place where we get unsolicited message. I think, it should be done with caution and I think they would. The features which they just announced last week are really nice. It needs to be much more a web portal. Like I said earlier, it also needs to introduce a group control. One of the reason, i don’t follow many people is that, most of the interesting things gets lost when you follow many people. I think, twitter is for the people who want to sell something. May be a product, idea or something else.., because, you are not a person to them…you are just a follower! The marketing folks have started to realize how hard it is to reach the people, because you tweet a message, doesn’t mean your followers read it. However the story is different in Facebook, where there are algorithmic tools, which gets your page view analytics and when you spend more time on a page or a person.., you tend to see them on your newsfeed, which absolutely makes sense.

Vijay – What is the message you would give to the developers and readers?

David – Well, do not expect the Facebook to stop growing. Make the best use of the Facebook and Open Graph APIs, and instead of just having a fan-page create apps which can consume the information and spread it to the people. That way, you nourish the platform and get the best of it for you and your users.

Vijay – I read that you spent over 2 years researching about Facebook, while writing your book. How did you manage to do that?  and., what would a reader get out of your book “The Facebook Effect”?

David – I had the full cooperation of Facebook’s key executives in researching this fascinating history of the company and its impact on our lives. This book will explain how Facebook was created, why it has flourished, and where it is going next. Its successes and missteps, and gives readers the most complete assessment anywhere of founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the central figure in the company’s remarkable ascent. How did a nineteen-year-old Harvard student create a company that has transformed the Internet and how did he grow it to its current enormous size.  It will talk about a company that has changed social life in the United States and elsewhere, a company that has become a ubiquitous presence in marketing, altering politics, business, and even our sense of our own identity. This is the Facebook Effect. This is the Facebook story that can be found nowhere else.

Vijay – Great to hear that. I am sure, everyone will be really eager to read this book. Thanks for your time David, It was great talking to you and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Have a great stay in India and hope to see you again soon.

David – I liked the conversation too. I also got to talk about something else for a change.  You could see, I can think about the other stuffs too. It also makes me feel that, i know other things in technology and not just Facebook.  I would love to come here to India again. Thank you for your questions and this interview!

If you want to buy David’s book, you can buy the same from Amazon here. You would also be interested in joining the Official Fan Page of “The Facebook Effect”. It was a great experience for me to interview him. Do let me know your comments and thoughts. Of-course, the biggest takeaways for me would be the knowledge gained through discussion and this picture which I clicked with him.

David and Vijay