Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg on the “Biggest Problem in Social Networking” [INTERVIEW]

The new version of Facebook Groups has made its debut. The driving force behind it and two other new features the company launched today is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of personal data ownership and control.

Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down with the iconic Facebook founder along with Groups Product Manager Justin Schaffer at the company’s Palo Alto offices. We discussed everything from Facebook’s algorithms to Zuckerberg’s take on The Social Network; however, the meat of the conversation was Zuckerberg’s belief that Groups will change Facebook for the better.

The first thing I asked Zuckerberg and Schaffer was how they felt the new version of Groups would change Facebook user behavior. Zuckerberg responded that it wasn’t just about mapping the all the groups in the social graph. It was also about creating “the kind of interaction we want to make possible.”

Before today’s changes, interactions on Facebook were primarily one-on-one (messages) or interactions with all of your Facebook friends (status updates). From what I gathered, Groups is designed to solve that issue, something that Zuckerberg calls “the biggest problem in social networking.”

“I don’t think we’re done. It’s just the start of solving the biggest problem,” Facebooks CEO said when I asked him what he felt was the company’s next big challenge.

Zuckerberg believes that the Groups feature will be a hit with users. The original Groups feature had limited engagement, but Zuckerberg simply believes the new version of Groups is “fun.” The new one, focused around Group Chat, shared networks and notifications, definitely has a deeper array of engagement tools, but will users adopt them into their daily routines? “I wouldn’t be surprised if only 5% or 10% create groups,” he said. Still, he noted that’s 25 to 50 million people — not a small number by any standard.

The power of Groups though, in Zuckerberg’s mind, is that the 5% to 10% that do actually create groups will invite their friends and help define these subsets of the social graph. Being part of a group gives these users access to its notifications, which should drive up engagement and make Groups into something many people will use.
However, Zuckerberg cautions that it’s going to take months for Groups to fully evolve.

The Limits of Groups

We also discussed the design and function of groups. What if someone wants to create a group for all of San Francisco? How about a group for all of Facebook?
There are no limits to how many people can be part of a group, Zuckerberg said. However, he noted that the product’s functionality degrades after 250 people become members of a group. Two key examples Facebook’s CEO cited were that Group Chat is immediately disabled at 250 members and that e-mail notifications dwindle down from actions by all members to only actions by your friends in the group.
These triggers are part of the company’s attempt to limit information overload, something Facebook’s CEO touched on during the public Q&A session.
The key point I gathered from our entire conversation though was that Zuckerberg and his team felt that there was a major hole in Facebook’s functionality, one so serious that the company had to was on lockdown for the past two months to get the feature complete. It’s not the only thing Facebook will be launching during the next few months, but without Groups, the rest of Facebook’s plan couldn’t come to fruition.
Groups is not some one-off product in Zuckerberg’s mind; it will become a core pillar of the Facebook platform. As he told me during the course of our conversation, the issue of grouping friends is inherent to all social applications. He wants the Facebook Platform to be instrumental in helping developers solve this challenge as well.
“Right now, the world isn’t there yet,” he said about solving the problem of defining groups in the social graph. “It’s not as defined as it needs to be.”
Groups is certainly the company’s biggest step towards solving that problem, but don’t expect it to be the last.
Interviewed by : Ben Parr


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