Wow, I was really excited about the opportunity to hear Mark Zuckerberg, 23-year old billionare CEO and founder of Facebook tell us how it was done, and share his vision of the future today at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Unfortunately, I, along with a few thousand others, was disappointed due in large part to the incredibly poor interview skills of the interviewer, Sarah Lacy of Business Week.
Now, there must be about 400 blogs out there tonight (I don’t know, I didn’t count them) blasting Ms. Lacy’s performance, and if you’re interested in the gory details, see any of the links below. Several of the bloggers seemed to feel that the problem was that Lacy is female and was being discriminated against as such, or that she isn’t a geek, so didn’t know how to ask geek-relevant questions.
Lacy’s problem with the crowd at SXSW was not that she’s not a geek, nor that she’s female (although the hair twirling was a bit weird…). The problem was that she is a poor interviewer. I started really searching for one truely open quesion about 15 minutes into the interview, and did not hear a single question from that point on which left Zuckerberg anything to say but “Yes, Sarah, I do agree with your presumption of what I’m thinking” or “No, Sarah, I am not aligned with the words you just tried to put into my mouth”. I thought Zuckerberg did an admirable job of trying to actually provide his own answers to some Lacy’s closed questions, but she responded by interrupting him and didn’t really appear to be listening to what he actually said.
I also think Zuckerberg did a fine job of politely suggesting (subtly at first, then more directly later) that she ask him a question, but she never took the hint. The audience, however, did take the hint and was very pissed off by the time took a more direct approach. At his suggestion that she actually ask him a question if she wanted him to answer, the crowd erupted in applause (some standing) because most of us were terribly frustrated and had been for the duration of the “interview.”
Another big problem was that Lacy seemed to want to tell us her opinion of what was going on at Facebook, about what happened when she talked to Zuckerberg (and how bad an interviewee he was despite her valiant efforts ) and about her book about Zuckerberg (which I’m not going to link to, because it pisses me off that incompetence might breed links to Amazon in this case). Frankly, I wanted to hear Zuckerberg tell us about Facebook. Instead, we heard Lacy telling Zuckerberg what she thought he should say.
What may have most contributed to the crowd turning so ugly, however, was that most of the people there have a lot of respect for Mark Zuckerberg, and Lacy’s behavior during the interview was really quite disrespectful, condescending and inattentive to this brilliant young man that so many here at SXSW admire. She interrupted him constantly, she criticized his short answers to her closed (or sometimes pre-answered by Lacy) questions, she told a story about him being so nervous that he sweated profusely, and she referred to an executive he’s hired as the “token grown up” at Facebook. I thought that was a pretty in your face insult to Zuckerberg, but maybe I’m just sensitive. But so was the crowd. So there you go.
Enough about the Sarah Lacy train wreck.
On to what Zuckerberg actually did say in the few opportunities afforded him…
Zuckerberg reiterated his theme of Facebook is about communication, not valuation and buyout opportunities. He emphasized his mission to build a platform uponwhich world problems can be solved. It’s a big bold statement, but I admire the man for thinking big. It might be rare for many of us to actually have a significant impact on world problems or social issues, but if no one thinks about tackling big issues then no big issues will be conquered ever…
In support of this mission, Facebook has started to launch the platform in differnt languages with a Spanish language version recently launched and a French language version to be launched within a week.
Zuckerberg also very candidly discussed privacy issues that are percistent and challenging for Facebook. Zuckerberg feel that Facebook must give people full and very granular control over what information they share and with whom they share it, and that most of the issues to date have been a result of insufficient user control in these areas. Zuckerman suggests that trust is a key element of Facebook’s design, and that features will support and enable users who have demonstrated trustworthiness to communicate faster and with more people. So, for example, while a user may be limited in the number of invitations they can issue, the more people who accept your invites in Facebook, then the more invites you offer. This being based on the assumption that you are a responsible inviter. (Is that a word? I didn’t think so.)
Of special interest to me was the question regarding rumors of negociations by Facebook for music play and sales integration. Zuckerberg claimed not to know (right…) and said they were “talking with people” about alot of things, but that “he has nothing to talk about.” Hmmm… sounds like something could be going on, but he was pretty evasive.
At one point Zuckerberg was asked about whether Facebook drove a very high valuation as a possible barrier to an undesired buy out, Zuckerber said it’s not that Facebook is trying so hard not to be bought, “it’s just that we’re not focused on that. We’re focused on building an application.” And he reiterated that the vision of communication and connection is what is really important to him. This made me really like the guy. Because I feel very much that way about my company. It’s not about becoming a billionaire (although that wouldn’t suck). It’s about making a difference in the world.
I think it’s a shame that Zuckerbergs message may have been clouded under the smoke from Ms. Lacy’s poor interviewing skills. I hope we can walk away remembering the important stuff, but I’m guessing the train wreck will be much more remembered than the comments. Oh well.
Here are some links if you want to know more about the SXSW Interactive Interview-Slayer Revolt — you won’t find much about Zuckerberg’s message there, I’m afraid, and I disagree with some of their conclusions about exactly what went wrong, but here they are…
YouTube video of the clueless Ms. Lacy demonstrating a distinct lack of poise and empathy in a post-train-wreck interview.
The Buzz Machine – Jeff Jarvis-this one at least gives some insight into the message Zuckerberg was trying to communicate.