SXSW: Zuckerberg on stage

Mark Zuckerberg arrives on the stage at SXSW and faces a cheering crowd. He looks out and gives them a grin he can’t contain; there’s a bit of ‘wow’ in it. That’s what I like about Mark: He’s out front. Who wouldn’t grin at a cheering crowd.

He says that one of the first things that people did when Facebook was released in Spanish was organize to revolt against the guerrilla armies in Colombia.

Sarah Lacy of Business Week is interviewing him. She asks him about Facebook and terrorism. Mark says he heard a story a few months ago “that’s absolutely unbelievable.” He says that less than hatred, terrorism comes from a lack of connectedness, a lack of empathy. Facebook, he says, has a relatively large public in Lebanon. He heard about students there who maintained connections with people who’ve gone elsewhere in the world and it broadened their horizons. “It’s really profound, right?” Now I know some might skewer this: Facebook solves terrorism. But he has a point. The internet is about connections. Society is held together by connections. They are related. “What we are doing as a mission is a very important thing,” Mark says. “Helping people communicate.”

Next he talks about an organization that is trying to copy the techniques of the NRA and bring the sort of attention it gets to poverty. He’s talking about larger missions now. He asks: “Why does there need to be a big organization to channel people’s voices.” The internet should give them that ability. “There needs to be a solid base for people to communicate, not top down, but bottom up.” That will be built around applications like the ones created by people in this room, he says, and Facebook is one of them.

Lacy says that Web 1.0 companies may have grown bigger than Web 2.0 companies but the latter will have more impact on society. Well, I’d say that Facebook has the potential to do both.

His announcement for the conference is that Facebook is launching in French tonight, a month after Spanish and a week after German.

He says that Facebook is working on a universal need: connecting people who want to communicate. He says that someday everyone on the world will be using these tools. “It may not be Facebook.”

He leads with the mission and then says that Facebook chose to be a company to meet that mission and to make money he turns to advertising and that turns to Beacon. “When we announced that, we probably got a bit ahead of ourselves,” he says.

Beacon. “WTF?” says Lacy. She asks him what he wanted to communicate.

Beacon, he explains, “isn’t even a part of the ad team, it’s part of the platform team.” Rather than being a big site, he argues, social efforts will be a collection of social services, including things Facebook doesn’t build. Thus the platform. “What we were trying to do with Beacon is just take the first step in enabling people to take actions elsewhere in the web and share that with their friends back on Facebook.” And it’s tied to the ad system. If he’d explained and launched it in that order, he probably would have been better off. But I agree that endorsement is a basic activity that can be aided.

Lacy asks whether in Beacon and Newsfeed, there is some inherent conflict between where Facebook is going and privacy. Zuckerberg says he needs to give people complete control of their information. “All the mistakes we made are because we didn’t give people enough control.”

I have long said that the issue isn’t privacy. It’s control. That’s the case not just for Facebook but for the internet and our new very public life. People need and want to be public but they must control how public they are.

Zuckerberg says that “at Facebook, we believe that people are basically good.” He says he’s shifting from a set of rules to a trust-based system. “In one way, it’s setting less rules….. I actually think it’s more laissez faire, we’re making less rules ourselves.”

Lacy: “So according to Forbes, you’re the youngest billionnaire ever on their list.” Zuckerberg: “We’re just not focused on things like that.” Lacy says she loves Facebook “but, come on, it’s not worth $15 billion.” He repeats that he’s not focused on that. “It’s all the themes we’re talking about today, helping people communicate more efficiently, building the platform….” She asks whether the valuation sets too-high expectations. He says “the high expectations are tough but it adds a lot of positive things.” He adds: Revenue and profit “are a trailing indicator of the value that you’re building.”

It’s business.

But it’s also mission. He repeats that he wants to build a platform to change the way people communicate. “How many times do you get to do that? Zero or one.”

Two numbers: The company just passed 500 employees. But it has 200,000 developers. That is the new model of a business as a platform. WWGD? Paraphrase: We believe that the way to build our goals is not to build all these applications ourselves but to build a platform where other people can build applications and businesses, he says.

Asked whether Google is pissed that he has information that isn’t out in the searchosphere. He says that there are different kinds of information and some of it is private and semiprivate.

He’s asked twice about the limitations of messaging — how we can’t search and such. Yes, it’s ironic: He wants to help us communicate better but now we are asking for more functionality and access. Zuckerberg says the original idea was to make it simple. But he agrees that he needs to work on it.

Lacy — who wrote a book soon out that’s in great measure about Facebook — talks about Zuckerberg’s personality and says that after talking to him on the phone, where he’s blunt, she expected a “ballsy teenager.” She found someone who was so nervous his T-shirt was sweaty. He said very little and she told him finally that all she wanted him to do was say more than two words. That’s hard, Mark said. He really is shy. “Three words,” Sarah said. “Yeah,” he replies. Mark has changed at these public events; he is more relaxed and not so laconic as he was (a shyness that was too often interpreted as ego, I think). Lacy gets a bit cloying, making jokes about him being 5 when thing were going on and treating him a bit like a mother. But he’s also comfortable with her and the audience.

Twitter talk is negative, especially on Lacy.

The crowd’s frustration finally comes out at the end when Zuckerberg tells Lacy, who goes on and on about him writing in Moleskines, that she should ask a question. He gets an ovation. She goes off on some odd rant about how he burns them and when he says he doesn’t and that she’s making that up (he’s saying it nicely) someone in the audience tells her to ask something interesting. She gets pouty saying that we don’t know how tough her job is. Jeesh. Someone at a microphone mocks her and she gets sensitive. She says someone should send her a message telling her what she did wrong. All she has to do is read the blogs.

The chatter in Twitter wonders who’d do a better job interviewing him. I’ve done that. It’s like interviewing no one else because he is direct and doesn’t wrap his thoughts in corporate cant. But I’d rather interview him than most business executives I’ve ever met. It’s a fascinating trip into the mind of someone who thinks in new ways.