People continued to have the idea for Facebook long before Facebook ever came. First there was six degrees; then there was Friendster; then there was MySpace. At university campuses such as Stanford, people were already digitizing their printed Facebook in 1999. When Mark Zuckerberg was in high school in Exeter, a classmate of his name Kris Tillery built up a database of student headshots and put it online with their telephone numbers. The project, to which the school finally gave its blessing, was called Facebook.
Of all those projects, there is only Mark Zuckerberg’s. The reasons why this is discussed in detail Facebook: The Inside Story, The huge new report from Steven Levy on the social network from its inception to today. Levy had access to Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and many of their best lieutenants and other associates for the past three and a half years, and the result was a revealing look at what the past 16 years looked like from the offices in Palo Alto and Menlo park .
The main lines of the Facebook story are known. But Levy adds a lot of color to topics, including the early life of Zuckerberg, his monomaniacal focus on growing the user base and the gradual contraction of his inner circle over time. Levy also has the best report so far of the Cambridge Analytica fiasco – he is quite skeptical about the motives of all involved and explains in detail how Facebook sowed the seeds for that specific arrival.
“We gave Mr. Levy ample access to our executives, who were upcoming about the most painful moments in Facebook’s past,” the company told me today via email. “Although we disagree with everything he said, we also do not deny the challenges he describes and we are actively working on solving them.”
As you would expect from the subtitle, The story from within omit the voices of almost everyone who doesn’t work there. Although it broadly refers to all the major criticisms that Facebook has received over the years, the book is not a referendum on surveillance capitalism, antitrust or hate speech. But if you want to know why Facebook is the way it is – how its leaders think, what their blind spots are and why the company’s plans have gone wrong so often – The story from within is an excellent starting place. I expect to refer to this for some time, here and elsewhere.
Tomorrow I will share some of my favorite moments from the book, which you can buy here. But first I wanted to ask Levy questions about the project and what he takes from it. We spoke via email this week.
Casey Newton: Facebook has had no shortage of press releases in the first year and a half. And yet the first rough set-up of history can sometimes do things wrong. Was there a part of the story of Facebook that turned out to be different than you thought when you had studied it?
Steven Levy: I would not say the early accounts were wrong, but afterwards tell history with the advantage that I could later identify decisions – usually Mark’s decisions – that would cost Facebook (and in some cases American users) dearly. We all know that Mark wanted to connect the world. But by understanding his thinking process and goals – and in particular his competitive instincts and his drive for growth – I felt that I was able to explain freshly how Facebook came about as we know it. I also found tons of wonderful, previously undiscovered or hidden stories, such as the ill-fated Facebook phone, the Twitterization of the news feed and the Analog Research Lab, a screen printing operation that produced those propaganda posters that you all see through Facebook HQ.
The book starts with Zuckerberg who settles in Nigeria when he discovers that the teenagers there don’t like Facebook as much as Instagram. You later tell how Mark Instagram came to starve out of resources and eventually drove the founders out of the company.
This feels like a non-characteristic emotional decision by Zuckerberg. Why did Instagram’s success bother him so much?
I think the Instagram people are still amazed by that. (For the record, when I asked him right away, Mark would not admit that he was “jealous” of Instagram success, although people in the IG team thought differently.) Perhaps because Mark’s Private Messaging in this time frame pivot point – what actually remove the founders as the main decision makers and make Instagram more integrated into Facebook – he felt it was necessary to clear those founders. He told me he saw it as freeing them to do great things elsewhere. If you look at it that way, it is not so much an emotional decision, but a strategic one.
There is a great moment in the book in which you ask Sheryl Sandberg her own signature question in 2019: what would you do if you weren’t scared? It gives you the absolute most purified non-response imaginable. (“What I would do if I wasn’t scared is try to be the Facebook CEO and grow this business and say I’m a feminist.”)
It is consistent with almost all of her appearances in this book, where it seems as if she is trying to avoid discussing the subject in detail. What do you think Sandberg is actually afraid of?
As Sheryl writes in her own book, she loves to control her environment and believes that if she works hard enough and smart enough, she can achieve anything. I was not surprised that she was careful in answering that question. I felt that in hour two (!) Of our last interview I saw a very sincere Sheryl, when it was clear how much the fall in Facebook’s reputation hurt her, all the more because she understands that her own shortcomings have contributed to this. It became pretty raw.
Zuckerberg, on the other hand, seems refreshingly simple in this book. Since his childhood he has always wanted to grow and manage a huge civilization, and now he has it! Everything else is just tactics and the goals almost always justify the means.
At the same time, he is slow to trust people, and in recent years most of his best lieutenants have left him. How deep do you think Facebook’s bank is today? When the current generation of delegates leaves, are new stars waiting?
No doubt that there is still talent on Facebook. But as I think you imply, Mark likes to give important jobs to people he has known and trusted for a while, and that bank is getting thin. (Andrew “Boz” Bosworth for example, has come off the bank a few times to record major important missions, most recently hardware, AR / VR.) I think the critical departure was Chris Cox, who I believe was the person he would have taken it over if Mark had suddenly decided that he had reached retirement age. Among those executives who joined relatively recently, I notice that David Marcus, who left PayPal in 2014 to lead Messenger and now leads Libra, seems to have earned Mark’s trust.
You have previously done book lengths to Apple and Google. How does Facebook’s internal culture relate to those giants? And could the company survive for a very long time if Zuckerberg ever left?
Facebook has always worked in the image of Zuckerberg. It is important that he has stopped his studies and created a culture based on the speed of web development and the brutality of the dormitory. (Google, though no less ambitious, was more grad school and science; Apple revered design.) Sandberg professionalized Facebook’s culture to some extent, but “the engineering mindset” and the “move fast” ethics – both explicitly touted by Mark – are still in reality. The company would not disappear if Mark left – the advertisers would continue to buy – but it would be another place under which his successor was. And perhaps the policy for political advertisements would change.
Finally, I have many questions about Amazon. Could you write your next book about them?
Get your questions ready Brad Stone, he is working on this.
Today in news that can influence the public perception of the major technological platforms.
⭐ Some app developers say Apple uses its enormous market power to harass, extort and sometimes even destroy rivals and business partners. They say the App Store is a case study about anti-competitive business behavior. And they’re fighting to change that – by breaking through the smothering of the Apple ecosystem. Will report Oremus at OneZero:
According to analyst App Annie, Apple customers downloaded 32 billion iOS apps in 2019, with which they spent a total of $ 58 billion, and that’s before you get the billions in advertising revenue these apps brought in. The App Store has become an important global industry for itself.
But critics say a gauzy success story hides the reality of a company that now has huge market power to harass, extort, and sometimes even destroy competitors and business partners. According to them, the iOS App Store is a case study about anti-competitive business behavior. And they’re fighting to change that – by breaking through the smothering of the Apple ecosystem.
Apple investors are voting on a new proposal that could force the company to disclose details about censorship requests from China and other countries. The proposal came after numerous Apple allegations that appease Beijing by blocking apps for Chinese customers. (William Turvill / The Guardian)
Thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated campaign to raise the alarm about the corona virus. According to US officials, the campaign has disrupted global efforts to combat the epidemic. (AFP)
⭐ Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon lost more than $ 238 billion in value yesterday as part of a broader market dive due to concerns about the spread of the corona virus. Apple is the technology giant most exposed to the economic threat of the virus, since a large part of the supply chain is located in China. Cat Zakrzewski is out of here The Washington Post:
Apple said last week that the coronavirus would cause it to miss its revenue targets in the current quarter. The company warned investors that iPhone production was resuming slower than expected, even when Chinese factories reopened, and also saw consumer demand for its products in the country decrease.
Amazon has said little in public about how it expects coronavirus to affect its business results.
Amazon tries to prevent sellers from increasing the price of face masks while the corona virus is spreading. Some say they have received messages from the company that their face masks are too expensive and that they can be removed from the site. (Louise Matsakis / Wired)
Conspiracy theorists about Facebook and YouTube Accuse the corona virus of 5G without evidence. Members of a group called “STOP 5G U.K” suggested that the recent coronavirus outbreak in Italy is related to the fact that 5G was rolled out there. (Alex Wilkins / Subway)
Bob Iger stepped down as CEO of Disney. He is immediately replaced by Bob Chapek, President of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Iger will remain as executive chairman until the end of 2021, with a focus on creative efforts. (Julia Alexander / The edge)
In the one-minute clip posted by WLOS ABC 13, Hinton can be seen reporting on snowfall in Asheville, totally unaware of the fact that he is digitally equipped with googly eyes, a wizard hat, dog ears, dumbbells and more.
The Emmy-winning journalist only became aware of his animated makeover after reading the flurry of reactions from viewers on Facebook. “Wait, Misty, did I have a strange face?” a bewildered Hinton can be heard while he asks a colleague off camera. After a long pause, he adds, “Oh, there are special effects on the phone.”
No media format is more old than TV news. Face filters could be precisely that this industry should be relevant again.
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