How Zuckerberg Fixes Facebook in 2018

 

For his 2018 New Year’s resolution, Mark Zuckerberg vowed to fix Facebook.

From his post: “Today feels a lot like that first year. The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do — whether it’s protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.

“My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we’re successful this year then we’ll end 2018 on a much better trajectory.”

Will Zuckerberg pull Facebook out of the fake news fiasco?

In my opinion, he’ll weather the storm and properly address the issue, because of one major reason…

He’s always tried to stick to his mission statement behind Facebook: Make society more open and connect the world.

Or as he said in his post: “The first four words of Facebook’s mission have always been “give people the power.”

That was the impetus. The mission is why he turned down dozens of offers to buy Facebook in the first four years of its existence. He was interested in impact, not money.

Yes, the platform has gone through an evolution over the years:

  • The ads platform (championed by Sheryl Sandberg)
  • The focus on growth, e.g. 7f10d (championed by Chamath Palihapitiya)
  • The publisher shift onto Facebook pages and demand for “likes”

Facebook’s evolution was necessary for its survival.

Of course, there have been hiccups along the way:

  • The backlash from News Feed in 2006
  • Beacon in 2007 (which sent Facebook data to ad companies)
  • The default privacy setting of “everyone” in 2009

But looking at the overall trajectory of Facebook for the last 13 years, Mr. Zuckerberg personally held himself to that vision.

We also have to consider the seriousness of the challenge here: a threat to democracy we’ve never quite seen before, that will ripple through our future as long as this hunk of debris we’re all standing on continues whirling around the sun.

However, consider what Mr. Zuckerberg built in his early 20s. Not only did he build it, he controlled it, thwarting million dollar offers from behemoths of industry (Google, Viacom, News Corp, NBC) and billion dollar offers (from Yahoo and Microsoft), before he was 25-years-old.

Compare that to many startup founders today, whose only strategy is an exit via acquisition, to get paid.

First Steps Towards Fixing Facebook

Mr. Zuckerberg’s already taken the first step towards fixing Facebook. In his post, he said:

“Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.

“We started making changes in this direction last year, but it will take months for this new focus to make its way through all our products. The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family and groups.”

What’s this mean?

It means to right the ship, he’s willing to put Facebook’s advertising-driven business model into jeopardy. The market already punished him for it. According to Forbes, the resulting 4.4% drop in the stock price cost him $3.3 billion.1

But as mentioned before… so what? His family already pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook shares. When the focus is on impact over money, the only thing that matters is control over Facebook.

While he ultimately withdrew his latest power move — to create a class of non-voting stock that would allow him to give away his shares of Facebook, yet still retain control2 — Mr. Zuckerberg’s still playing with a stacked deck.

Heavily influenced by Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, they set up Facebook so Mr. Zuckerberg controlled not one, but two board seats. Mr. Parker had been ousted — twice — out of his own companies and was determined not to let the same happen to Facebook’s founder. When Mr. Parker left the company, he gave control of his seat to Mr. Zuckerberg, giving him control of three board seats out of five.

“That solidified Mark’s position as the sort of hereditary king of Facebook,” said Parker in The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick. “I refer to Facebook as a family business. Mark and his heirs will control Facebook in perpetuity.”

Later, Zuckerberg gave board seats to Marc Andreessen and Don Graham of The Washington Post Company.

In more recent years, he’s continued to exert massive control by essentially skipping a venture round, so he never had to dilute his stock, as pointed out by Jason Lemkin.3

On his blog, founder of NewCo John Battelle proposed two possible avenues Mr. Zuckerberg might make to fix Facebook. Either: “well-intentioned but feckless point solutions which are implemented with little to no effect” or he redesigns the product, guts the advertising model until he’s forced to switch (for example, to a subscription-model).

Mr. Zuckerberg has shown his hand and opted for the latter path. Inevitably, depth of engagement will decrease (whether you’re looking at DAU/MAU or average time spent per session), but he’s betting that better social interaction will stabilize these numbers.

If I had to make a bet, I’d bet on Mr. Zuckerberg.

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-net-worth-loses-33-billion-news-feed-change-share-price-falls-drops-44-per-a8157356.html
  2. https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/09/22/facebook-drops-stock-plan-that-would-have-allowed-zuckerberg-to-maintain-control/
  3. https://www.quora.com/How-did-Mark-Zuckerberg-manage-to-own-25-of-Facebook

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