Egg-on-Facebook. Is this a confession or face-saving ploy?

Confession, or mea culpa?

Mark Zuckerberg’s published statement to Congress, tries to make it a bit of both. But that doesn’t easily get Facebook off the hook.

I find it incredulous that many of the data leaks (not hacks) were something Facebook ‘learned’ about from journalists at The Guardian, and Channel 4 etc. Or so Zuckerberg claims. How is it that a company that specializes in data harvesting and monitoring of millions of people and entities, didn’t have an algorithm or human sniffers to alert it to what was being done through its servers?

I find it odd that a company that was founded by a guy who literally ‘scraped’ data off Harvard’s computers (and thus stumbled on the business model) didn’t look out for the same thing happening to his domain.

Entrepreneurship isn’t a formula: 3 lessons from The Social Network

As I was visiting the Cambridge area in Boston, ten days ago, where’s The Social Network was set, a Harvard grad friend who hadn’t still seen it mentioned that the movie was sold out that evening: Harvard students had apparently bought up all the tickets!

It made me reflect on what such a traditional setting, steeped in centuries-old tradition and architecture, had played in bringing about the huge shift in social networking as we know it today.

The simplistic answer is in David Kirkpatrick’s book and in the movie version: Mark Zuckerberg, he suggests was sticking his finger at the authorities who had been stalling on a version of a college network comprising faces of students and their contact information.

Less than a month after Mark Zuckerberg launched the early version of his Facebook (then he called it The Facebook), Harvard authorities were still scrambling. They had had their no-frills ‘facebook’ online since 1996, but it was nothing more than a contact list. Kevin S. Davis, then Dir. of Residential Computing  noted that they were working on their new faceboook.

“We’ve been in touch with the Undergraduate Council, and this is a very high priority for the College. We have every intention of completing the facebook by the end of the spring semester.”

But the world was not going to wait a few months for the perfect online social application.

Zuckerberg quickly learned –or perhaps was smart enough to decode human behavior — that people were ready to make a big leap into social sharing. Digital generations had prepared the ground for an experience of social trust, notwithstanding so many privacy issues.

In The Social Network (Mark’s story set within a boring board investigation that’s probably highly dramatized) the people in charge at Harvard, including those in IT, are ticked off. This guy doesn’t conform! He’s hacking tradition!

Isn’t this very familiar? Every organization welcomes a new hire by some sort of on-boarding employee experience, just to ensure  some conformity. There are traditions to uphold. Mission statements to memorize. Then you are asked to go forth and be creative –within the boundaries, of course! Entrepreneurs don’t work that way, it appears.

I was immediately struck by how Zuckerberg’s story is a parable for entrepreneurship. On our radio show, we talk to a lot of these kinds of people; the common thread seems to be the fact that they have dared step out of the boundary that others drew for them.

Having said that, these are the three lessons I derived from the movie about Facebook.

1. Cultivate a huge appetite for empathizing with  what people need. We set up a lot of feedback mechanisms that deliver great insights into what people want to tell us But what about something they don’t articulate? In one moment in the movie, when Mark’s friend asks him if he knows if a girl is ‘available’ or not, he retorts something to the effect of ‘people don’t go about with a sign saying they are single.’ he then rushes back to his laptop and codes Facebook to include that feature, and pretty much says it is now ready for launch!

2. Be comfortable with making mistakes. There is no perfect solution. Mark tells his friend that  nothing is ever complete. In real life he was reported to have said (of Facemash, his web site that let students rate others on their ‘hotness’), “I understood that some parts were still a little sketchy.” It’s easy to scoff at this. He probably knew that there would be many iterations before his idea really took off, but (unlike the Harvard authorities) he was not waiting for all the chips to fall into place. His mistake got him into big trouble, but paved the way for a better idea!

3. Intellectual capital beats money. There is a video of an interview about the shoe-string startup, where Zuckerberg reveals that he had run the site for just $85 a month, renting computers for the first three months. In the movie, and in interviews with the student paper he shows disinterest in the money he would make through advertising. His co-founder, Eduardo Saverin has said this: “Intellectual capital, and not just monetary capital, will spawn the next great product or idea.”

The book makes another point, almost in passing. The Facebook was launched at a crucial moment in the life of students at Harvard: they were registering for classes that week, and Zuckerberg knew that many signed up for classes based on knowing who else was in that class. The Facebook provided that insight, just as today’s version of social networks provide those key insights that make them so valuable.

The authorities had the data. The entrepreneur had the insight. That’s what made his creation priceless.

Egg on its Facebook, why doesn’t Zuckerberg learn?

The moment I heard Mark Zuckerberg say things like “When people have control over what they share, they are comfortable sharing more,” I knew that (a) I had heard it before and (b) this was a desperate to distance Facebook from the keyword “privacy” to the other seven-letter keyword, “sharing.”

He has said that “The key here is that we always listen to what people say and the data.”
: “we are always being forced to respond to react to the outcry.”

In his state of the backlash address yesterday (video) he spoke of his belief in a more connected, world powered by sharing. Hard to fault him on that.

But you can sense that this 26 year old idealistic web visionary  (who was only nine years old when the first Web browser arrived on the scene) has not quite understood the true human motivations that make his application so popular. He and his team may have a critical feel for the market forces they are engaging, but they are constantly misjudging the people who populate Facebook.

  • Check some earlier problems here (the EU was upset then)
  • And here (remember Beacon?) and here.

Almost every Facebook user I speak to (friends, clients and colleagues) admit they have no clue as to how to tweak the convoluted privacy filter settings.

Three years ago a security firm, Sophos, warned of how too much sharing would backfire. They did that again last year. They found that the sharing gene in people lets them give away too much information.

By invoking what he called the “simple master switch” Zuckerberg is trying to woo users by saying that they will be more in control. He has also said that:

“The trust you place in us as a safe place to share information is the most important part of what makes Facebook work.”

Where have I heard this before?

Zuckerberg didn’t say it yesterday. He said this in February 2009!

Quotes for the week ending 15 March, 2008

“This is the wrong image, folks.”

Josh Bernoff, of Forrester, complaining (“People are not bees”) about the gross misuse of the bee image among advocates of social activity

“Each of Spitzer’s words was accompanied by a rush of camera clicks.”

Report on the resignation over a prostitution scandal, of New York governor, Elliot Spitzer.

“Airborne is basically an overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that’s been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed.”

David Schardt, Center for Science in the Public Interest on Airborne’s $ 23.5 million settlement with the FTC for false advertising.

“The usual way for a newspaper writer to weasel out of such a request is to say that it is not a “local” issue.”

E. J. Montini, in The Arizona Republic, on a reader asking him to display the nine zeros in $12,000,000,000 (when referencing the amount the US spends on two wars each month) and why he complied.

“Try doing what I do for a living … It’s not that easy.”

Journalist Sarah Lacy, in an all downhill interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at South By Southwest convention in Austin, Texas. The audience started heckling her, some started dancing.

“I now see myself as The Curator of Conversations.”

Businessweek writer Bruce Nussbaum, commenting on how his approach to journalism has changed. He was commenting on the Sarah Lacy incident.

How not to interview a rockstar

Saturday’s unfortunate interview at the South By Southwest Interactive technology summit in Austin, Texas may go down as one of the most Twittered incidents. But it will also be remembered as one of the dumbest ways to interview a rock star CEO.

Sarah Lacy seems to have done her homework on the interviewee, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but didn’t get a good reading of the audience. Going by several reports, she:

  • Inserted herself into the story
  • Annoyed the interviewee
  • Annoyed the audience
  • Seemed uncertain of her facts
  • Alluded to the wisdom of the crowds (Digg) as “mob rule”
  • Exceeded her time

All this from someone who fully understands what the Web 2.0 is all about. (Her book on silicon Valley and the rise of Web 2.0 will be out shortly.)

Bruce Nussbaum of Businessweek summed up the incident well -pointing out to Lacy making the fatal error of “playing an old, traditional, mainstream journalist role” when talking to someone in an entirely new media space. Maybe this interview technique would have worked with a Steve Ballmer, but definitely not with Mr. Facebook.

To be fair, Lacy’s interview with Digg founders later on was totally different. But there was no audience to heckle her –she did the interview strolling along downtown Austin.

Things that made us go “huh?” in 2007

Oh, what a year it was. Between freedom of information faux pas, a fake press conference, and a shiny new new object from Apple, we obsessed about these stories:

The amazing role that social media played in letting the world know about the violent reaction to the peaceful protests in Burma, in September

Larry Craig, Republican senator for Iowa, accused of soliciting sex in an airport bathroom, pleads guilty, but then attempts to deny charges.

Southwest Airlines gets a passenger to change his T-shirt because of it has a slogan that could be considered rude. It also gets another passenger to get off a plane for wearing a too-revealing mini skirt. Southwest later apologized and called launched mini skirt fares.

Lisa Novak, the astronaut who drove across the country in a diaper, is arrested.

Strumpette, the PR blogger who postured about PR, resigns, and re-emerges.

FEMA holds a fake news conference after the California fires, using employees posing as journalists.

Apple fans camp outside electronics stores to be the first to buy the $600 iPhone.

Soon after this, Apple warns iPhone customers it would cripple it should they try hacking it.

Wal-mart is investigated on charges that an employee could have been spying on text messages and phone conversations between a New York Times reporter and a PR employees.

Jeff Jarvis begins to say nice things about Dell.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologizes for Beacon, a feature that would have shared users’ personal information with others without their opting in.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio arrests the owners of a newspaper, The New Times, for refusing to submit information about the dates and times and other information about visitors to its web site. The case was later dropped.

Comcast responds to the “Comcast Must Die” angst started by Advertising Age columnist (and NPR’s On the Media co-host) Bob Garfield, saying “real world developments” such as becoming the largest cable provider makes it difficult to keep promises.

John McCain responds to a New Hampshire high school student’s question about his age with “thanks for the question, you little jerk!”

A blog calling itself Fake Steve Jobs, is tracked down to senior editor of Forbes, Daniel Lyons.

British rock band Radiohead releases its album In Rainbows online, for free, with a prompt to downloaders to pay what they want.

Earlier in the year, Prince gave away a 10-track album, Planet Earth, free through the ‘old media’ a.k.a. newspapers, The Mail on Sunday.

The protest by Londoners over the ‘ugly’ 2012 Olympic logo. The wisdom of the crowds was ignored. The logo remained unchanged.

Barry Bonds if pleads “not guilty.” Don Imus is fired by CBS, and returns to radio via an ABC affiliate.