Sunday, March 9, 2008

Keynote Interview with Mark Zuckerberg

Keynote Interview with Mark Zuckerberg

I couldn't get a wireless connection during the keynote, so no live-blogging. But that's okay, I seem to prefer to be able to collect my thoughts a bit anyway. Here's the scoop, post-interview:

I did NOT like it when they started with some chest thumping music. I had not taken my asthma inhaler and the bass hit me square in the middle of my chest. I swear it felt like my sternum was jumping. For a moment I thought I was going to have to leave the room. At least some others enjoyed it much more.

The dynamics of this interview were very different from yesterday's opening remarks. There was lots of awkwardness, and although the interview was interesting, it didn't get me as excited and inspired as the opening remarks with Henry Jenkins. I'm not sure why.

I was also not terribly impressed with Sarah Lacy, who interviewed Zuckerberg. For some reason I found her extremely annoying. Extremely. Really. (It didn't help that the camera angle was not flattering to her seated position either.) I think perhaps it was because her dynamic seemed so different from Zuckerberg's. The whole exchange seemed a bit ... off. (The pairing of Stephen Johnson and Henry Jenkins yesterday seemed to work much better.) Even so, I was stunned at the negative audience reaction to her later in the interview. Whoa. I had a little sympathy with her at that point. It's gotta be tough to be up there and get that much negative reaction.

Zuckerberg himself still seems much like a college student at the top of his class, at least with his speaking ability and comfort level with being interviewed. But he was earnest and faced the crowd when talking about many of the anecdotes he used to explain the effect of connections through this medium. He reminds me of many of the software developers I've worked with before, even in so far as his short, simple and somewhat awkward-moment-producing answers to some questions.

I tapped into the parts of the interview that touched on the effect of Facebook on communication, connections and culture. For example, Zuckerberg talked a lot about Facebook going international, in different languages. he mentioned they just launched their first Spanish-language platform. It's doing very well in Columbia where it apparently has been used for political activism. Zuckerberg seems to feel strongly about the effects of keeping connections across distances and that's something I can relate to, having extended family all over the globe while I was growing up. I can only imagine how a technology like Facebook, or even good 'ole email might have helped my parents and myself maintain closer connections with my grandparents. Zuckerberg offered another kind of effect of keeping those connections easily accessible when he talked about the effect of young people in Lebanon keeping connections with friends who'd gone abroad.

Of course, this is not new. This is the kind of observations made early on as a revolutionary effect of email as early as the late 80's and early 1990's. But Zuckerberg's point of how Facebook has made this much easier is well taken. After all, that's exactly what the World Wide Web did for an Internet composed of arcane commands and disjointed communicating and sharing technologies like telnet, FTP, archie and uuencode.

There was also some discussion of Facebook launching in other languages, the Beacon fiasco, how Facebook sees itself as a technology company versus a media company, and privacy issues. In fact, one of the first questions was from a female user of Facebook who was interested in when more granular control of what certain groups of friends have access to on Facebook would be available. I did get a sense that Zuckerberg's answer was more concerned that this was something the company needed to do or it would fail, rather than a fundamental problem of maintaining control over connections, which was odd, given his very strong sense of the users and connections in the early part of the interview. I also got a little insight into how the developers are trying to solve this, since he mentioned a sort of Bayesian type of learning filter for the news feed.

Towards the end, the audience seemed to revolt against the interviewer. There was some heckling, and there was definitely a moment of tension before it was turned over to questions.

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