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11/17/2010
01:46 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Web 2.0: Facebook CEO Says E-mail Is Too Complicated

"Almost every major product vertical is going to be rethought to be social," said Mark Zuckerberg. "Get on the bus."

Facebook aims to reinvent e-mail because it's too slow and stodgy.

In an interview at the Web 2.0 Summit on Tuesday afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg elaborated on his Monday announcement about Facebook's new Messages system. He said that high school students he's talked to feel e-mail just isn't responsive enough, an assessment he translated into a dislike of the rigors of e-mail: having e-mail addresses, subject lines, CC and BCC fields, and other structured data entry.

"What they meant was it's too formal," he said. "We went into this looking not to build an e-mail product, but what would be a modern messaging system if we started from scratch."

Google tried to reinvent messaging with Wave and it didn't work out very well. But Wave was complicated and short on social savvy. By aiming to simplify what's already simple enough for most Internet users, Facebook at least is headed in a direction that appeals to people. Simplicity sells, if you're not worried about enterprise controls, archiving, and compliance concerns.

Facing questions posed by Web 2.0 Summit co-chairs Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle, Zuckerberg appeared more comfortable and articulate than he has in previous Web 2.0 Summit interviews. He was also more adept at ducking tough questions, as could be seen when the subject of Facebook's openness came up in the context of the company's data export restrictions.

O'Reilly suggested that because e-mail addresses can be viewed by a user and copied, it's sophistry to suggest that preventing the user from exporting his or her contacts in an automated fashion is a way to enhance user control, particularly when Facebook can collect e-mail addresses from Google.

"What you're saying is definitely true," acknowledged Zuckerberg, who then proceeded to defend barriers to information movement as a way to give users control. That's not far from pronouncing "closed" as "open."

Zuckerberg's counterpart at Google, Eric Schmidt, on Monday argued there's too much focus on competition. "People are obsessed about the competitive landscape when what they should really be focused on is how much bigger the market is getting," said Schmidt.

Zuckerberg said pretty much the same thing. He played down the competition between his company and others, a business landscape charted on the "Points of Control" map that serves as a touchstone for this year's Web 2.0 Summit.

"Your map is wrong," insisted Zuckerberg, arguing that uncharted territory is missing. "We're building value, not just taking it away from someone else."

Indeed, though Facebook is taking employees away from Google, which recently offered everyone in the company a raise to discourage defections.

Zuckerberg repeated some previous talking points: "Most industries are going to be rethought and designed around people," he said. But he also sounded more willing to accept an open social infrastructure, eventually.

Battelle said some people thought of Facebook's power as the "one ring to rule them all," suggesting that companies choosing to integrate Facebook services might find themselves under Facebook's control.

But Zuckerberg said that he expected there will be multiple social networks and that everyone should be able to work together. "These rich data sets being interoperable is going to be one of the really defining things that's going to allow a lot of innovation over the next few years," he said.

Be thankful there isn't actually any competition that might get in the way of interoperability.

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