IN ADDITION TO preaching to developers, Facebook’s CEO has long used the annual F8 developer conference to communicate more broadly about the company’s future direction. Last year, he publicly retired the word “hack” as its rallying cry, introducing a phase in which Facebook invested more in listening to both users and developers and shoring up its network of products and services. Speaking to WIRED, he explained the company had changed its internal motto to “Move fast with stable infrastructure.”
It wasn’t nearly as catchy as “Move fast and break things,” which was the point: Facebook was emerging from its startup history to become a mature company able to help its developers reach large audiences consistently and profit from their work.
At F8 today in San Francisco, the company is unleashing a spate of updates and announcements designed to amplify these efforts. (You can read about those announcements here.) Thematically, Zuckerberg wants the world to understand that Facebook is much more than the blue “F” icon on the front of your smartphone. (Thank god, because you won’t even find it on many teens’ phones.) It’s a collection of socially fueled services, from Instagram and Whatsapp to the virtual reality headset manufactured by Oculus. And with the success of Messenger, Facebook’s messaging app, the company has finally proven that it doesn’t have to buy new growth; it can build a new and robust social service in-house.
Facebook’s web of products and services now reaches 1.4 billion people around the globe, many of whom tap into the social network through its connection to Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus. Zuckerberg notes that many of these newer services are growing their multi-hundred million user bases faster than the original social networking site. That’s part of what has made the past year so profitable for Facebook. The company’s revenues jumped nearly 60 percent to $12.5 billion last year.
To continue this supercharged growth, developers will be crucial. They build much of the software that draws those users and entices them to stick around longer. In a recent conversation at Facebook’s Menlo Park campus, I asked Zuckerberg to share a few thoughts on his developer philosophy, his perspective on Google, and how all of Facebook’s products and services fit together.
WIRED: I’ve been to most of the F8s. They’ve changed in recent years. They began as a conversation with the world. And they’ve become a conversation with developers. Who are you are addressing?
ZUCKERBERG: I think the bigger shift is that they used to be [for] major product announcements. And now they are our moment to get the developer community together to talk about how we are thinking about all of our different products and services. The first F8 was announcing the whole platform, and even the second and third F8s, the keynotes were kind of short and focused on one thing we were talking about. We announced Connect and didn’t at all talk about theCanvas games business, which had grown to this really large business. I think a lot of what we’ve tried to do is just grow up and make sure we have this moment to talk to all the different folks in this community about the different products that we have.
WIRED: One of last year’s big themes was that as Facebook entered the next phase of its corporate life, it would focus on listening really well to people. Do you feel you’ve lived up to this goal?
ZUCKERBERG: I think it’s a multiyear thing. You can’t just say, we’re going to be stable, and have people believe you in six months. You get a reputation for stability if you are stable for years. So it’ll be something we’re going to talk about at this year’s F8 and next year’s F8 and F8 2020. Right now I don’t think we have a reputation for being unstable.
Similarly I think that there’s this reputation that the people using apps [that rely on Facebook] are often not happy with what [those] apps ask for in terms of permissions. We cut back on the default amount of information that apps could ask for. We started testing anonymous login. We redid login. We are going to continue that this year.
WIRED: You have twice as many developers this year. Your event is twice as long. And you have developers for so many different products. How does everybody fit together?
ZUCKERBERG: So this is a big theme for this year, too. It’s a theme for the developer community but it’s also a big theme for our whole company and our mission and what we’re doing. A lot of people think about Facebook as this one blue app. The Facebook company is synonymous with the Facebook product. But that is becoming less and less true. Not because the Facebook app is becoming less important; I think it’s actually grown in importance in the world. But because now there are these other services like Messenger, which has 600 million monthly active users. Whatsapp has 700 million. Instagram has 300 million. Groups has 700 million. Those are all continuing to grow at an even faster rate than the core Facebook app.
So [developers] are building apps and content that can flow through all these different social media channels. I think there’s this narrative that needs to be told about how they all fit together. One way that we talk about this internally is that a lot of natural systems in the world fit this pattern of arteries and capillaries, or a highway and side roads, or fiber and then the last mile to the home. Human communication fits the same pattern. You need your thoroughfare where communication can be broad, and there are multiple of those. And then you need really targeted, more precise things that actually deliver the message directly to people with more certainty. We have that between the News Feed system, which is the biggest artery, and things like Messenger and Whatsapp to one extreme, and then things like Groups in the middle. I think that that’s an interesting opportunity for developers and a cool way to conceptualize how the communication system for the world evolves.
WIRED: Several of Facebook’s announcements position the company to compete more directly with Google. For example, Facebook Analytics for Apps, which provides developers an analytics tool that works across devices. There’s also the work Facebook is doing in video. How are you thinking about that?
ZUCKERBERG: I think the people covering us think about things in terms of competition more than you actually do when you are running a company. It’s fun to talk about a conflict between companies. But really, we have goals. We are trying to help people make money. We are trying to help people advertise effectively. If you’re advertising and a big part of what you do is targeting to people, measurement is really important to understand: are you hitting them with your message and is it actually converting for people? To the extent that we are doing measurement and Google did measurement, that’s just because Google is smart and they also realize that measurement is valuable, but it’s not like we are trying to take measurement away from them. It’s an obvious thing you’d want to do if you were an advertiser. You want to have the best understanding you can about how your stuff is performing.
Same on the video front. Video is growing very quickly on Facebook. A lot of people compare that to YouTube. I think that kind of makes sense. YouTube isn’t the only video service, but I think it’s the biggest and it probably makes more sense to compare Facebook video to YouTube rather than Netflix because that’s a completely different kind of content. When we are thinking about stuff like embeds we are not thinking about how we are competing with YouTube. We are thinking about how are we going to make it more useful for people to share stuff on Facebook.