Stop the presses: Facebook CTO says news next in social revolution
- 10 February 2011
- From the section Business
Each week we ask chief technology officers and other high-profile tech decision-makers three questions.
This week, Bret Taylor, chief technology officer at Facebook and co-founder and former chief executive of FriendFeed, which was acquired by Facebook in August 2009, is providing the answers.
Founded in February 2004, Facebook is a social network utility and website, with over 600 million active users. The company is privately held, so does not publish results, but says it is cash positive as of 2009. Facebook employs over 2,000 people and has offices in 12 countries.
What's your biggest technology problem right now?
Probably the biggest technology problem we have is delivering Facebook to all the people who use it, in the places they want to use it. The past couple of years has seen a rise in really advanced mobile devices.
The most symbolic of that is the iPhone, but now with the Android operating system we're seeing a huge amount of innovation in the mobile space, and more and more people are interacting with Facebook as much on their mobile devices as on their PCs and laptops.
As a consequence of that, if you'd asked a few years ago what's the right development platform for Facebook, it would have been easy, we would have said we'll make a website delivered via HTML, and that would be acceptable to anyone who wants to use Facebook.
With all these mobile devices, there's a huge amount of platform diversity now. When we update the Facebook product we have to update about seven different versions. We have to update the website that runs on your PC, the iPhone app, the Android app, the Blackberry app, the mobile site and a number of other device-specific versions of Facebook.
It's becoming a real engineering challenge for us, as well as other technology companies.
Because of that, I think we're spending a lot of our time investing in HTML 5. It's the code name, if you will, for the next generation of web technology that's optimised for mobile devices, and optimised to feel more like native applications.
The end goal is that we'll be able to develop one version of Facebook for mobile devices, that runs on all different kinds of mobile phones. That's really where our focus is now.
What's the next big tech thing in your industry?
Facebook is both a destination site that people visit every day and interact with their friends, and also a platform on which a lot of different companies build social technology into their applications.
So everything from local review sites like Yell to games companies like Zynga, who make socially-enabled games, use Facebook
We've seen the Facebook platform really take off in the gaming industry. Zynga for example is a company based in San Francisco. It currently has a market cap that exceeds that of Electronic Arts, which was the incumbent game company before Zynga.
The company is completely defined by social gaming - games that you play with your friends. All of their games are Facebook-enabled.
This is a really meaningful thing for us, as it really represents the potential of Facebook as a platform.
We haven't seen tons of other industries as impacted as games by Facebook, and we think that the next big change is seeing the next few industries being disrupted by social platforms in the same way gaming has been.
If we had to guess, it's probably going to be orientated around media or news, because they are so social. When you watch a television show with your friend, it's such an engaging social activity.
We think that there's a next generation of startups that are developing social versions of these applications, where what Zynga is to gaming, they will be to media and news, and we're really excited about that.
What's the biggest technology mistake you've ever made - either at work or in your own life?
Prior to Facebook, I was the chief executive of a small internet startup called FriendFeed.
When we started that company, we were faced with deciding whether to purchase our own servers, or use one of the many cloud hosting providers out there like Amazon Web Services.
At the time we chose to purchase our own servers. I think that was a big mistake in retrospect. The reason for that is despite the fact it cost much less in terms of dollars spent to purchase our own, it meant we had to maintain them ourselves, and there were times where I'd have to wake up in the middle of the night and drive down to a data centre to fix a problem.
What I realised was that you can't measure the quality of your life in dollars alone. I think that most of the people that worked at FriendFeed would agree that if that part of the company were just taken care of, it would have been worth all of the extra money we would have spent on it.
Very few of the startups I know in Silicon Valley actually purchase their own servers now, they're using these cloud hosting providers, and I wish we had as well.