Facebook has spent a ton of money recently to buy startups with some potentially game-changing tech products – like the Oculus virtual reality system and the WhatsApp messaging service – after the the giant social network met with mixed results in launching a couple of its own products last year.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’s not giving up on building new technology within Facebook, but he’s calling for patience in judging the results.
Zuckerberg spoke recently with the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo for an article about Facebook’s new strategy for operating a stable of stand-alone mobile apps, like Paper for reading news, Instagram for sharing photos and Messenger for chatting with friends. We’ve reported on this strategy earlier, but Manjoo also published a transcript of his interview that reveals some more of Zuckerberg’s thinking.
Manjoo mentioned a couple of Facebook products, including the Home interface for Android phones and the Graph Search service, which debuted with a splash but haven’t caught on in a huge way so far. Zuckerberg, however, sidestepped some of Manjoo’s question about whether he’s worried that some of Facebook’s latest home-grown products haven’t met with more success.
“With Graph Search, I think that modern search products have so much built into them that we knew it was going to be a five-year investment before we got anything really good and different,” Zuckerberg said.
“With Home, the reception was much slower than we expected. But it was a riskier thing. It’s very different from other apps …” Zuckerberg continued:
“The other thing that is important context to keep in mind is that, to some extent, most of these new things that we’re doing aren’t going to move any needles in our business for a very long time. The main Facebook usage is so big. About 20 percent of the time people spend on their phone is on Facebook. From that perspective, Messenger or Paper can do extremely well but they won’t move any needles.”
Zuckerberg also touched on Facebook’s new Creative Labs division, which is building more standalone apps:
“Then there are things that are nascent, that we’re inventing from scratch, like Home, Paper or any of the other Creative Labs work we’re going to do. Maybe in three to five years those will be in the stage where Instagram and Messenger are now.”
Don’t look for Facebook to build its own version of “anonymity apps” like Snapchat and Secret, however. Zuckerberg said both WhatsApp and Messenger fit into what he called “this framework of private communication,” but he added:
“Anonymity is different. I’m not going to say it can’t work, because I think that is too extreme. But I tend to think some of these interactions are better rooted in some sense of building relationships. There are different forms of identity you can use to form a relationship. You can use your real identity, or you can use phone numbers for something like WhatsApp, and pseudonyms for something like Instagram. But in any of those you’re not just sharing and consuming content, you are also building relationships with people and building an understanding of people. That’s core to how we think about the world. So anonymity is not the first thing that we’ll go do.”
(Photo of Mark Zuckerberg by Nhat Meyer/Mercury News)