Editor’s note: Peter Boctor was part of a crowd of Seattle software developers who attended Mark Zuckerberg’s talk in Seattle on Wednesday evening. He provides an overview in this guest post.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Q&A session with engineers Wednesday was primarily a recruiting event showcasing the Seattle engineering office, with lots of talk about the company’s culture and what it is like to work there. But before the Q&A, Zuckerberg outlined the trends Facebook is seeing today as well as what he expects to see over the next five years.
Zuckerberg says social networking has reached a critical mass. Hundreds of millions of people now use social networks to stay connected with each other. The usefulness of social networks is now well-understood and one indisputable trend is that the number of users on social networks will continue to grow.
“I think the world at this point kind of understands that and has internalized the fact that there’s a new level of connectivity, and really a social platform that all these different new kinds of new social experiences can be built on top of,” Zuckerberg told engineers.
Another trend is that users will continue to share more. People’s attitude towards sharing in society is changing, he said. We’ve grown comfortable with sharing more, partly because we’ve been doing it for a while.
Facebook’s version of Moore’s law is that every year on average, the amount of stuff that a person is sharing roughly doubles. This means that five years from now people will be sharing 32 times as much stuff as they do today and in 10 years they’ll be sharing 1,000 times as many things as they do today.
Mobile is another huge trend, with users connecting to social networks at all times, not just in front of their computers. In fact one of the recent rumors about Facebook losing active users was due to an internal Facebook bug that miscounted mobile-only users, which are becoming more common.
But Zuckerberg says what’s more interesting is that social networking has reached an inflection point, and that social infrastructure is now being taken more seriously.
Zuckerberg’s analogy was to the Internet in general and how it took a while to develop. Once mature, developers switched from building desktop software to primarily focusing on building software that relies on the Internet.
The social infrastructure has now reached the same level of maturity, Zuckerberg believes. He sees a trend of new apps that can just assume that over 90 percent of their users are part of a social network where they have easy access to their friends and can easily share with them.
This changes the scenarios for how apps spread, how they work, the economics of apps and even the overall app experience.
The end result is massive disruption. We’ve already seen this in the games industry with the traditional big players now chasing companies like Zynga and other startups building social games.
“The next 5 years are going to be about all the crazy things you can do now that all those people are connected, and I think it’s going to be cool,” he told the crowd of Seattle developers.
Zuckerberg sees this disruption spreading further. New apps built on top of this social infrastructure will have new approaches and experiences that are naturally social: Watching movies, watching TV, discussing books and music and listening to music. This trend of disruption will then continue to spread to more utility-like industries such as commerce, health and finance.
Listen to an audio clip of Zuckerberg’s talk here.
A PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT OF ZUCKERBERG’S OPENING REMARKS:
I’ll talk for a second just about the trends that I kind of see in our product development and what’s happening in the world. We’re at this pretty interesting inflection point now. For the last 5 or 7 years — Facebook’s been around for a little more than 7 years now — the main narrative that people have talked about in terms of social networking and Facebook has been about how people now have this new way to connect.
Now people can stay in touch with people that they couldn’t before. They can easily share stuff. There was no way to share in a low friction way before, and all the new scenarios that that creates and how it’s so cool how there’s — you pick the number — 3, 4, 5, 600 million people are now able to connect in this way. That is going to keep happening and I think at this point it’s been pretty well shown that most people in the world have family and friends and most of those people want to stay connected to those people and that social networks are good products for doing that.
We hope that, at Facebook, that we can be the company that brings that to a lot of people and if we’re not, I’m pretty sure someone else will if we drop the ball. But I think that’s going to happen. I think the world at this point kind of understands that and has internalized the fact that there’s a new level of connectivity and really a social platform that all these different new kinds of new social experiences can be built on top of.
So the next 5 or 10 years, or whatever this period is going to be, I don’t think is going to be just about realizing, or connecting more people. There will be an extension of what we have now, going from 5, 600 million users to whatever — you name it, we hope to do really well.
But I think the real cool trend that’s right about to happen is that we’ve now reached this critical mass where now I think people are starting to take social infrastructure seriously. So if you’re an app developer, an entrepreneur, just like there was this time where the Internet took a while to develop, before people really decided, OK, I’m going to switch from building desktop software and now primarily build Internet stuff because this infrastructure is mature, I think we’re now starting to get to that on the social side of things where there’s now a lot of interesting apps that can get built that can just assume that all of their users, or 90 percent of them, are a part of a social network where they can easily have their friends there, can easily share with their friends. That can enable new scenarios for how the app spreads, how the app works. Some of the earliest examples we’ve seen (are) with games.
The whole gaming industry has gotten completely upended where the traditional big players are now chasing companies like Zynga and a bunch of startups that are building social games. The dynamics of building these apps when you assume that everyone is going to be in a social environment, the economics, the experience, are completely different. How the app spreads, how it re-engages people. It just leads to massive disruption.
And I just think over the next 2, 3 years, we’re going to start to see that in more and more industries, and the next ones I would expect are going to be media-type industries — which are things that you typically do with your friends. You watch movies with your friends, you watch TV with your friends, you discuss books and music with your friends, you listen to music with your friends. Those are pretty ripe I to be disrupted and have just completely new approaches happen. We’re at this point now with the scale that we’re at that really good entrepreneurs and really good companies that are building deep experiences in these areas are like ‘OK, now the social infrastructure is mature enough that we can build on top of that and build something really cool.’
Eventually I think it will probably reach all industries, but we’ll probably go through the ones like games and media before it gets to things a little further down the line like commerce or health or finance or things that are a little more utility-like. But I think that’s going to be the really crazy trend for the next few years and one of the things that we see mathematically is that we have our own little version of Moore’s law.
The law that said there’s this exponential growth in the number of transistors that go on an integrated circuit. We found that every year on average, the amount of stuff that a person is sharing will about double. And it’s different things each year. So one day, let’s say you’re sharing 5 things a day right now. Maybe you post a status update and you like two things and you write a comment, then statistically if this trend continues, then that means that next year you’re probably going to be sharing 10 things, and the year after that you’ll be sharing 20 things a day and the year after that 40. And the way that the exponential math works out, is that 5 years from now, if that stays true, then people will be sharing 32 times as much stuff as they are today. And 10 years from now they’ll be sharing 1024 times as many things — maybe not exactly 1,024 but 1,000 times more things as you are today.
You can kind of project out intuitively what the world is going to have to look like at that point to get to that. And what are some of the trends that are driving that, one of them is that there’s all these apps that are going to be developed that are social that you can kind of already seeing that are giving people new ways to share things.
Another trend is mobile, which is obviously a huge part of this — which means that instead of being just on a computer when you’re at a computer, you’re at a computer all the time. It means you can share more stuff and then the final thing is that people’s attitude towards sharing in society is changing.
If you look back 30 years, I think people’s attitude towards wanting to put something out there would’ve been different than it is today, where now every high school student, college student has the opportunity to have a blog, or a Facebook account, or a Twitter account, and can use those things to share things and that’s much more of the norm now. I think instead of just primarily being afraid of the impact of that, now people are now primarily starting to see that that actually can be very valuable.
All these things are coming together and you can predict some of the apps that’ll get developed, but I think it’s going to be a really exciting few years. That’s what I’m excited about now. I think the last 5 years have been about connecting all these people. The next 5 years are going to be about all the crazy things you can do now that all those people are connected and I think it’s going to be cool.
Peter Boctor is a longtime Seattle software developer, having previously served in engineering roles at Aldus, Adobe and Zumobi. He now works at Zaarly. You can read his blog here or follow him on Twitter @Boctor.