There was standing room only at TechCrunch Disrupt on Tuesday 11th September, when Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage for a thirty minute interview – his first since the company’s less than encouraging initial public offering back in May, which saw its stock value plummet by almost half. Zuckerberg himself described the setback as “disappointing”, but remained pragmatic on the matter, saying of his role as Chairman and Chief Executive: “some days suck, some days kick ass”. And the millionaire’s demeanour was decidedly positive as he discussed the future of the social network.
The dramatic fall of share prices has been attributed to general uncertainty over whether Facebook would be able to shrug off its personal curse when it comes to achieving satisfactory profit in mobile devices, doubts which were no exacerbated by the fact that co-founder Dustin Moskovitz has been openly and systematically jettisoning shares since August.
However, Zuckerberg was optimistic about Facebook’s mobile development, maintaining that IPO regulations prevented public updates previously, but that progress is rapid and on-going. He predicted a healthy stream of revenue from mobile advertising going forward, explaining that mobile ads are more fully integrated into the user’s feed and therefore more engaging, as opposed to the historic desktop adverts, which appear along the side bar and can be easily ignored.
When questioned about whether Facebook would be following Google into the hardware market, the answer was a resounding ‘no’. But while there may be no current plans to launch a smartphone or tablet device, there is one aspect of Google’s model that Zuckerberg is keen to adapt: internet search. Rather than simply copying Google’s search engine functionality à la Bing, though, he intends to propound a more tailored service – social search, which would offer personalised answers to specific questions based on people’s connections. Among the examples given were asking for local restaurant recommendations based on what your friends have enjoyed, or enquiring as to whether a particular company is a good place to work, based on your friends’ experiences (and the experiences of your friends of friends).
Zuckerberg was remarkably open about the impact that the dips in stock price have had on Facebook staff morale, but asserted that his team are more than willing to roll with the punches: “Facebook has not been uncontroversial in the past. It’s not like this is the first up and down we’ve ever had…What motivates people at Facebook is building stuff they’re proud of.”
And while we may still have a while to wait before Facebook finally resolves its longest standing bone of contention (its notoriously obtuse privacy settings), Zuckerberg’s manic, fast-talking appearance seems to have been a hugely successful step towards restoring public faith and confidence in the social network, where share prices have risen by 4% in the aftermath of the interview.