Facebook hosted its first ever town hall Q&A today with the netizens of the world. Modeled after a Reddit Ask Me Anything, users were prompted to post questions for CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the weeks leading up to the event. The most popular ones were selected by the company, and Zuckerberg answered them in a livestreamed meeting, with some of the questioners flown in to ask theirs in person.
The questions pre-selected by Facebook’s PR team were surprisingly compelling.
Zuckerberg covered everything from The Social Network (“They made up a bunch of stuff that I found hurtful”) to ebola (“What I wouldn’t give to go back to the seventies and fight to prevent HIV”) to his t-shirt style (“I like to clear my life so I can make as few decisions as possible”).
Here are the best questions asked and Zuckerberg’s response:
Why did you force us to install Messenger?
Zuckerberg laughed at the audacity of this one. “Alright we’re going to get right to this,” he said. He started off with an management-speak empathy shtick — he understands it was “a big ask” to require Facebook users to download a separate app. But he had a good reason. “We believe that messaging is one of the few things that people actually do more than social networking,” Zuckerberg said.
The messaging services that people use the most are the ones with the least amount of friction, like Snapchat and WhatsApp, and Facebook wants Messenger to be among them. Zuckerberg admitted, “We have a lot to earn in terms of trust and proving that this standalone messenger experience will be really good.”
What’s your favorite feature Facebook has developed but not released?
We got a window into the Facebook process with this one. Back in 2013, Facebook built a new version of its desktop timeline after users complained it looked outdated. The company was “really happy” to release it and even threw a press event pumping up the launch. But once it rolled out to a beta test of users, it didn’t go over so well.
“At Facebook, we have these big monitors,” Zuckerberg said. “It gave us a blind spot to the computers most people are using in the world.” As a result, the version of the newsfeed the company designed cut off the number of stories users could see on a normal screen. Engagement in the beta test plummeted, and Facebook scrapped the project.
Is Facebook becoming boring?
The social network CEO had a charming response prepared for this one as well. “It’s an interesting question to me because my goal was never to make Facebook cool,” Zuckerberg said. “I am not a cool person.” Of course, his answer skirts the fact that “cool” is very important to a social networking business. Arguably, “coolness” is what has helped Snapchat take off with teens, leading to Facebook offering to buy it for $3 billion.
Still, Zuckerberg’s elaboration on his answer was compelling. He said he wanted social networking to be functional, not cool, akin to a utility like electricity. “It doesn’t need to be in your face, it just should work,” Zuckerberg said.
And the softballs
Once the Q&A was opened to spontaneous questions from the audience, it devolves into fluffy softballs from “What’s your passion?” to “How do you overcome obstacles?” The one unplanned query that I wish had been worded more strongly was, “I’m curious about your perspective on the importance of diversifying tech.”
We might’ve gotten a little more insight into Facebook’s thinking on the issue if the person had asked how, exactly, Facebook planned to improve its employee diversity. But instead Zuckerberg called up Sheryl Sandberg, who did some rah-rahing — “We as a company believe that every girl out there can [work in tech] if she wants to” — and sat back down.