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My Awesomely Surreal Experience at Facebook’s F8 c.a. 2007

It was about this time 11 years ago that Facebook opened up to the world. It was Spring in San Francisco and I was working a little stint at The CTO and Product Manager were a couple of well connected Stanford guys, and one day we were driving down to Palo Alto to go to Facebook’s headquarters. I didn’t really get what was going on. Although some of my other colleagues were encouraging me to check out Facebook for it’s interface and interaction design, I had never gotten on the site. I didn’t possess a dot EDU email address, I was too old for that for RISD. So there I was cruising down to Palo Alto with two guys to go meet with Dave Morin not really knowing what the heck was going on.

We breeze into Facebook’s office, greeted by Dave right away. It was a really cool office and people we met were young, and this was not the kind of start-up I was used to. Prosper's CTO had been my boss at a previous job. Facebook was effortlessly cool compared to that company my old boss started.

Dave starts talking about some event. There will be a hackathon, it was a huge deal, it’s going to be Awesome. They kept saying “awesome”. And as the three of us headed back up to the city, the guys complained the entire trip, annoyed with the “awesomeness” of it all. They griped about twitter and they complained about Facebook. And I didn’t really get it but I guessed that they were jealous of those companies’ obvious success.

In the spring of 2007 the iPhone did not yet exist. There had been a few internet companies that survived the early days, and a new crop of companies were emerging that were trying to avoid all the sins of the past. The old way was talentless hacks schmoozing their way to success in a Wolf of Wall Street-esque kind way. The new way was driven by smart programmers, people who wanted to cut to the chase so to speak and grow very quickly and smartly.  People who didn’t want to end up as the “resource” for the talentless hacks. My old boss was about to get even more bitter.

It was fate, F8. Back at Prosper I helped create a game called “Fantasy Banker” which was kind of not fun, but I had to work with what I was given. I got to attend F8 along with some others from Prosper and really I was just taking it all in. The event was in a small space, there were only maybe 200 people. I bet there are more like 20000 plus people at Facebook events today. Amid sounds of Daft Punk, a bunch of people got up on stage and spoke.  Some exec from Amazon, some exec from Microsoft. Big money was flowing Facebook’s way. And then, Mark Zuckerberg came to the stage like a really nerdy rockstar. Around The World was pulsating over the sound system. And Zuck started relating growth stats. “We are the number one photo sharing site with some insanely large numbers of views, uploads, new accounts, people, babies and kittens transacting”. And on and on. Grow baby grow. If I was some privileged millionaire I would’ve been running to get on that rocket ship.

I was impressed by the time the presentations ended. I continued to be impressed with Facebook as a user who is also an interaction designer. What Mark Zuckerberg had done was solve many enormous problems for technology. Problems that a litany of companies failed to solve despite a shit ton of investment. I was impressed with Facebook for several reasons, like I said I am an interaction designer so I live at the intersection of human psychology and user interfaces. I was impressed, until Donald Trump was elected president. Then I suspended my account utterly disgusted with the whole situation.

Fast forward to 2018... While I write this Mark Zuckerberg is going before Congress to speak about the Cambridge Analytica debacle and maybe Congress will touch on Russian meddling but I doubt Republicans want to hear that they didn’t actually score an honest win. Like Obama did. Or Bill Clinton did. But I digress.

Here is my advice to Mark. He did a really fantastic job at building a platform that DOESN’T CREATE ORIGINAL CONTENT. It was like pulling money out of thin air when you get all this FREE content to run personalized ads around. This is Facebook’s problem. Facebook was exploiting their own users for ad revenues, any topic was wide open for advertisers. Anything. Maybe the solution is to take some of the focus off of people’s personal lives and put more focus on real, authentic content. Which means, people who create content, all the writers of both fiction and fact, all the musicians who record songs that people share, and people like this - should be paid. Maybe if you invest in journalists and artists, actors and producers, people wont be so angrily bored and make stuff up like Jade Helm. Maybe it will become easier to police the political crap  - if - most user's conversations and advertising are around true original content. I mean… look at Spotify’s IPO!!!!!

So that’s my crazy Facebook story. I will always have the memories! And a T-shirt to prove it!


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