Facebook Moves On to Find Another Billion Users

NEWS ANALYSIS: The news about the 1 billionth user was refreshing, given Facebook’s recent troubles. Execs face new challenges as employees work on new products and solutions.

Facebook announced Oct. 4 that it smashed through the 1 billion-user barrier, making it perhaps the first company in the history of the world to count its product inventory in 10 digits.

After all, if you're using a service like Facebook free of charge, then you, in fact, are the product. The information you freely give to Facebook so you can use its features is what the company, in turn, uses to make revenue. In Facebook's case, it's making plenty of money selling aggregate personal information (what you "like," where you travel, what Facebook ads and pages you click on, what you buy and so on) to advertisers and marketers.

In return, users get their own Web pages, a framework for their own social networks, convenient ways to store photos, videos and blogs, share experiences and opinions, and find old friends. Maybe even frenemies.

Company Dearly Needed Some Good News

The 1 billionth-user item was a refreshing bit of news for a company that has been hounded by controversy for the last few months. Actually, there have been some problems dating way back to 2008, when security issues were causing consternation. The company's rocky initial public offering last May renewed some ill feelings, to say the least.

Since its first day as a public company on May 19, 2012, Facebook has lost about 40 percent of its corporate paper value, with the stock price around $20—down $18 from the first-day sales price. There are quite a few steaming shareholders—many of whom work at Facebook's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, where CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has his office in a building featuring a sign that reads "The Hacker Co."

Zuckerberg, who hadn't talked publicly to anybody until a couple of weeks ago at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, told NBC's Matt Lauer Oct. 4 on "Rock Center" that at this juncture in the company's eight-year history "there's a lot of crazy stuff that's going on. There are periods that people say that we're doing better than I think we're doing, that they say we're doing worse than I think we're doing.

"Things go in cycles. We're obviously in a tough cycle now, and that doesn't help morale," Zuckerberg said. "At the same time, people here are focused on the things that they're building.

"I feel a lot of responsibility in my role, and the thing that we can do is make sure that we're building the business and building our products to be the best that we can be. And that's what everybody comes to work every day to do, and I think people are really excited and optimistic about the things we're doing."

Making Facebook Relevant on Smartphones

Zuckerberg is quite aware that Facebook doesn't work as well on smartphones as it does on a laptop, yet 600 million of its users are logging in regularly through mobile devices. He has recently admitted that the future of the company will be directly tied into its mobile audience. This -- improving the mobile user experience -- is now the top priority.

"The future is really going to be about mobile," Zuckerberg said. "The opportunity is for growth there. We do have the most-used mobile apps. There are 5 billion people who use mobile phones, so we should be able to serve many more people.

"I take this responsibility I have really seriously. I really think that Facebook needs to be focused on building the best experiences for people around the world. We have this philosophy that building the products and services and the business go hand-in-hand."

Zuckerberg said he was strongly influenced by the late Apple co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs—especially when it came to looking at a product or service from the user's point of view.

"He [Jobs] was so focused. For him the user experience was the main thing that mattered—the only thing that mattered. I think there's a lot that every company can learn from that," Zuckerberg said.

We'll see how much he has learned as the company moves into a new level of business in the mobile and search-engine worlds.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...