Facebook is not evil, despite the disproportionately loud grumblings of its critics — which (as Mark Zuckerberg recently pointed out) is a small fraction of its 400-million-plus user base. But Facebook is also not a non-profit despite Zuckerberg’s claim that they’re not in “this for the money.”
On Wednesday’s press conference, Zuckerberg said: “It might seem weird, we’re not doing this to make more money. For all the people inside the company, that could not be more true. It’s such a big disconnect that we’re doing this for the money.”
Methinks the Zuckerberg doth protest too much.
Zuckerberg is not a saint and he’s also not the same 19-year old who allegedly mocked his users for trusting him with their information, but somewhere in between lies reality. He’s a CEO and he runs the world’s most powerful social network. Following Wednesday’s announcement, he spoke with NPR, and acknowledged that Facebook needs money from advertisers to operate, “to run a service like this that serves more than 400 million users.” However, no one believes that Facebook is trying to make just enough money to keep the lights on, nor should we expect them to. But we can expect a higher level of honesty and transparency. Mark, it’s OK to want to make money (and heaps of it), just don’t pretend that every action is designed to augment the user experience.
You could argue that Zuckerberg’s comment (“we’re not doing this to make money”) was just a throwaway line, that I’m reading too much into it. However, it seems to be an emerging tagline for the entire company, on par with Google’s “don’t be evil.” His comment echoes a similar statement from Facebook’s VP of product, Chris Cox, during a backstage interview on Tuesday:
Cox says, “Anybody who knows Mark knows that he’s not doing this to make money…none of the changes we’re making are fundamentally about making money. That’s just not how the company rolls, that’s not how we’ve ever rolled.” Cox acknowledged that Facebook is trying to build “a great ads product,” but he immediately reiterated the idea that money is “not the motivating force behind a lot of the stuff that we’re rolling out.” When I pressed him on the issue of Facebook credits and the rich 30/70 breakdown (Facebook effectively gets 30% of a developer’s proceeds), he said it helps developers by establishing an official currency, similar to the Euro. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t justify Facebook’s 30% commission nor does it dovetail nicely with a company trying to project an indifference to profits. Will the real Facebook please stand up?
Zuckerberg seems to be genuinely interested in changing the world, after all he did reject significant buyout offers, but he also seems to be genuinely interested in turning Facebook into a multi-billion-dollar machine. As I said earlier, I have no problem with a profitable Facebook making obscene amounts of cash, I’m just imploring Zuckerberg to portray his mission honestly.