As the fruits of Google’s rush to build a social network are now achingly public, someone has asked a pretty apropos question on Quora, “How long would it take to build Facebook as of July 2011?”
Former Facebook CTO and Quora founder Adam D’Angelo provides an informed answer, arguing that if we were just talking about the software and systems and not the company’s user acquisition (which Google granted has a way easier time with), that the entire process would take two years, if undertaken by 175-250 people.
D’Angelo arrives this number by calculating which years exactly were relevant in building the current Facebook and adding up the engineers employed during those years to come up 1000 man years as total time. D’ Angelo then eliminates about half of those man years for churn (or trial and error) figuring out that it would take 250 people two years to build a comparable social clone.
While “Clone Facebook In Two Years” makes for a great headline (trust me I was tempted), D’Angelo doesn’t raise the burning question of why it couldn’t just as easily be 500 engineers working for one year, 1000 engineers for half a year or 2000 engineers for a quarter of a year. Also, there are good reasons for why bringing on more engineers might slow down a project.
That aside, the best part about the answer is D’Angelo’s caveats (of course):
“It’s impossible to suddenly get 250 people working on something. Most people wouldn’t want to work on this because they could just work at Facebook instead. “
“This doesn’t matter too much, because over the course of the next two years, Facebook (hopefully) will be far advanced over the current state of the product, and so if this clone ever launched it would have to compete against that.”
“You can’t just build the software for a site like this and then let it run – you need a whole company with processes and support around the product to have it function.”
If it walks like a Google and talks like a Google …
Ex-Facebook Intern Yan supports D’Angelo’s estimates in the thread and implies that, because of how much Facebook open sources, the actual number of engineers needed to make a functional clone is less than 250 (to which D’Angelo replies correctly, yes, but Facebook doesn’t really spend that much time open-sourcing).
“There is a lot of work that went into building Facebook that Google can avoid redoing,” Yan states matter of fact. Emerald Sea, the project that eventually became Google+, started development in June 2010. Many hold that it is a combative measure, as Facebook’s potential to use rich social data in order undermine Google’s search business continues to loom.
It’s been little over a year since the project began, let’s hope Google+ has got at least 500 engineers onboard before mass launch.