SAN FRANCISCO—Is it possible to feel sorry for a 23-year-old CEO whose company is allegedly valued at $15 billion?
Yes, it is.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was dressed like the former college student he is in a T-shirt, sweatshirt, jeans and sandals, but he may feel five years older after John Battelles tenacious and sometimes sarcastic line of questioning at the Web 2.0 Summit. Yes, summit co-host subjected Zuckerberg to a good ole-fashioned browbeating.
For example, shortly after Zuckerberg said he is focused on hiring and growing Facebooks staff from 300 employees to 700 staffers by next year, Battelle asked how much time he spends worrying about his revenue model.
Read more here about Facebook opening up to developers.
"Worrying about revenue model. ... Well, we spend a lot of time on product development," Zuckerberg said.
"No ..." Battelle cut in, unwilling to let his subject evade or misunderstand the question.
Battelle rephrased the question, asking if Zuckerberg had to sit down and crack the whip on his sales team for not making their numbers.
"No, because theyre so good," Zuckerberg replied.
"OK, so not so much on revenue model ... um …" Battelle trailed off, drawing laughs from the audience.
Battelles persistence paid off, as he eventually got Zuckerberg to admit that Facebook would make some sort of bid in the online advertising space in the next few months.
Comparing Zuckerbergs Harvard dropout status and subsequent rise to power as the creator of a power computing platform to Bill Gates provenance in the computing world, Battelle asked: "Do you see areas where Facebook might want to colonize the platform, and can you spell those out for us so we dont start businesses in them?"
"Well, we might do something in ads," Zuckerberg said.
To read more about Facebook entering the online advertising game, click here.
"Thats a good start," Battelle said. "You want to elaborate on that?"
"No, no. In the next few months, there will be a lot more on that," Zuckerberg said.
Later, Battelle asked about the status of Facebooks partnership with Microsoft, which serves display ads for Facebook.
"I think were both happy," Zuckerberg said.
"You think or youre sure?" Battelle countered.
"Im pretty sure," Zuckerberg replied.
At that point, Battelle went back to the ad-related line of questioning, asking if Facebook is considering creating a third-party ad network. Zuckerberg, clearly weary of the ad questions, said Facebook was just getting started.
Battelle wasnt the only one to grill Zuckerberg.
During the question-and-answer session, Marc Canter, Macromedia founder and current CEO of open-source social networking tool Broadband Mechanics, asked if Facebook will open APIs that will allow developers to export unique identifiers out of Facebook so that users can make decisions on how to share data.
"That really gets at the essence of a closed platform," Canter said. "All this data is on your servers, but youre not willing to share with the rest of us. I say about 98 percent youre creating an open platform. Youre just not all the way open."
"We want to get there," Zuckerberg said. "Thats definitely the goal."
Zuckerberg wouldnt commit to a timeframe, but when Canter asked what developers get to do if they come back a year from now and they dont have it, Battelle closed out the questioning line with "You get to ask again, Marc."
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