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Today, I attended the forum at BYU where Mark Zuckerberg (the unassuming CEO of Facebook) and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch talked about technology. Hatch fielded questions that were posed by BYU students earlier on the BYU Facebook page. Zuckerberg talked about founding Facebook, his advice for budding entrepreneurs, and his vision for the future of technology and social media.

Today, Facebook has 500-600 million monthly active users. More than half of the Internet users in the USA use Facebook. Within 2 years, nearly half of the overall US population will be on Facebook. (Source)

On starting Facebook: Mark talked about how he took an idea in his dorm room at Harvard and developed it into a company worth perhaps $50 billion (which, by the way, has only about 2,000 employees). He had a double major in computer science and psychology. Mark felt psychology was important because, in the end, all of the technology problems we deal with are really human problems. We use technology to provide tools to solve human problems. 

Mark wasn’t trying to build a company. He just wanted the product to exist at Harvard. Within a few weeks, 2/3 of Harvard students were using it. Then came requests from surrounding schools. “Then it kind of got out of control from there.”

Mark and his college friends often talked about how different the world could be if people were able to connect better. People can’t physically connect with more than their close circle of friends. But with technology, you can stay in touch with more people. Tools like the Internet and Facebook give people a voice. maps out friends who are connecting between countries. Technology can help people better understand each other. By enabling people from diverse backgrounds to easily connect and share ideas, we can create more understanding and cooperation between countries, leading to more peace.

At one point, when Facebook had about 100 million users, Mark took a month off and traveled around the world to reflect on what he was doing and what more Facebook could become.

On innovation: “We think that our company understands the technology and social issues fairly well, but we want to enable entrepreneurs across the world…. There is a huge opportunity for disruption in any area that you’re passionate about. And we want to enable independent entrepreneurs to do those things. I think then we can build a much stronger ecosystem of apps.” Over 1 million people are building apps on Facebook. They want entrepreneurs around the world to use tools provided by Facebook and by others to create services around music, gamming, education, health, etc. There are whole new industries that could be created like this.

On Facebook’s success: “One thing that gets blown out of proportion in our culture is the focus on the single person or the couple of people that are running something. The success of Facebook is all about the team that we built. I think that’s true of any successful company.”

Advice for entrepreneurs: Mark encouraged people to have passion about what they do. “Really love and believe in what you’re doing. I think that’s the most important thing. If you start to build something … it’s hard and you encounter a lot of challenges. If you don’t completely love and believe in what you’re doing, it actually becomes the rational thing to stop doing it. Most people have something that they’re super passionate about, and I’d encourage you guys to find that thing.”

Advice for people who want to work for Facebook: “We look for people who are passionate about something. In a way, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about. What we really look for when we’re interviewing people is what they’ve shown an initiative to do on their own.” He encouraged students not to just attend classes, but to begin building things and participating in community and philanthropic endeavors. “People don’t get put into roles, they create opportunities for themselves.”

On privacy: Early on, Facebook was criticized for not being more protective of its users’ private information. (Initially, Facebook left its privacy settings open by default.) But they have since made great progress in providing multiple levels of privacy options. He also emphasized that Facebook does not sell or provide information to advertisers. Advertisers can target specific demographics, but no information is sold to or goes to others.

On creating a safe environment: “We’re really focused on safety, especially children’s safety. We take a lot of extra precautions,” he said. “We really try to create a safe environment.”

On government regulation: Mark and Orrin both said that the best thing government can do is to stay out of the way of developers. Mark believes there is so much innovation on the Internet now because there isn’t a lot of regulation.

My thoughts: The phenomenal growth of Facebook is driven by the fact that Facebook is not just a face book. It represents a fundamental shift in the way people communicate:

  • It’s a platform—similar to a mobile phone. It’s a social way to network and interact with people.
  • It’s a combination of e-mail, chat, instant message, photo gallery, video sharing, gamming, blogging, journaling, and life history, all rolled into one. It’s a powerful collaboration tool. 1.5 million pieces of content (links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos) are shared on Facebook—every day.
  • It’s a way to invite people to events and document what happened.
  • It’s a way to express yourself, launch initiatives, and let everyone know about it—at least, everyone who wants to know about it.
  • You can run a whole business on Facebook. You can run a whole information campaign on Facebook.
  • It’s a platform—an environment—where people are developing and expanding its capabilities every day.

Here’s a clip from the forum. Full video will be up on the BYU Facebook page on Monday. Read a story on BYU News.

Learn about how the Church uses Facebook.

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