Following a bland TV interview with Diane Sawyer for ABC News on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg came to life Thursday night at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., for an event commemorating the release of David Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect.” Maybe he just felt comfortable in the setting — an edifice constructed for the purpose of paying tribute to geeks and their contributions to the world.
Zuckerberg, in conversation with Kirkpatrick and NPR’s Guy Raz, was self-deprecating and introspective about Facebook’s progress and his role as a leader at the company. It was a far cry from the sweaty mess he was at the D Conference last month.
Some of the more notable remarks Zuckerberg made were to clarify his personal thoughts on privacy, a matter of much speculation and consternation given he has so much control over Facebook, where 500 million people share so much.
In his book, Kirkpatrick quotes Zuckerberg as saying, “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Given that Facebook could, if it wanted to, force members to make the more juvenile or secret parts of their lives more public, it’s one of the scarier quotes attributed to Zuckerberg — but tonight he downplayed it.
“I think that was just a sentence that I said,” Zuckerberg said. “I wasn’t making a value judgment.” Zuckerberg said he meant integrity in the dictionary sense of the word — an ideal of honesty and honor. Whereas in real life and on Facebook, “I think people will always keep some things private.”
However, Zuckerberg admitted that he himself probably doesn’t act differently in front of friends as business contacts and coworkers. “I’m probably the same awkward person.” (That got a laugh.) But he said that Facebook has always held personal control as a core tenet, and that “when people become comfortable with sharing information they share more information.”
Zuckerberg also said that he’s not out to make information shared on Facebook more public over time (which seemed like a reasonable interpretation of past moves the company has made to change default privacy settings). Rather, he said Facebook set out to make a simpler experience back in December, and that’s why it opened up the defaults (they were later changed after widespread attention to the company’s overcomplicated privacy settings).
Some other interesting bits from the interview:
Foreign Relations: Though Facebook has up to 80 percent penetration in some countries, Zuckerberg said the company is now making progress in countries, like India and Brazil, where it was not the social network leader; it now considers itself the biggest in India.
Until recently, there were four major countries where Facebook didn’t have a presence: Japan, Russia, South Korea and China. It set out to work on the first two this year. In Japan, a “skunkworks team” of three engineers who moved to the country to recruit local users is already paying off, Zuckerberg said. They have already signed up 1 million users in the last six to nine months.
Zuckerberg added that while Facebook as a company values openness, transparency and free speech, “In some ways I think it’s closed-minded to write off the values of other countries” where local laws and morals may be different. While Facebook may be a U.S.-based company, 70 percent of its users are outside the U.S.
Future Products: Facebook is working on a more natural and implicit way to create subcategories of friends that users can share content with. Zuckerberg admitted than an earlier implementation, friend lists, was a bust. Making explicit lists was too arduous. “This is one of the core areas that we’re working on now,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook vs. Google: Zuckerberg’s defense of the notion that Google’s biggest competitor is Facebook was to say that the two companies do not have overlapping products (well, except for Buzz and the forthcoming Google Me, but who’s counting). “Their market cap is greater than all other Internet companies put together,” Zuckerberg said. “From our perspective, they don’t have to lose for us to win.”
Sticky Sweet: Even at 500 million users, double what it had a year ago, Facebook is increasing engagement. In the last year the percentage of users who use the site every day has gone up, said Zuckerberg. It’s over 50 percent now.
Facebook After Zuck? Zuckerberg played down his role in shepherding the company, and the company’s reliance on Zuckerberg’s personal idealism — topics Kirkpatrick emphasized in his book. Zuckerberg said it was unlikely any future leader of Facebook would abuse user data and clutter the site with spammy ads. “I just think it would be the stupidest thing we could possibly do.” And though he clearly doesn’t plan on stepping down anytime soon, he said Facebook could survive without him at the tiller. He said of his management team, “If I were to disappear, any of them could run the company.”
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