TECHNOLOGY

Mark Zuckerberg: “This division in the US hasn’t been seen for a long time”

EL PAÍS attends Facebook’s Friends’ Day, held to celebrate the social network’s 13th anniversary

Thirteen years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was a student at Harvard known for his computer programming skills. After creating an application that connected up his fellow students with each other, he then decided to include every university in the United States, and ended up by spawning a global network with more than 1.8 billion users. Facebook has made him the youngest of the world’s 10 richest people.

Mark Zuckerberg at Menlo Park.
Mark Zuckerberg at Menlo Park.Juan Pablo Rojas - Platzi

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To celebrate the company’s birthday, which Zuckerberg has dubbed Friends Day, he invited a small group of Facebook users, along with journalists from six media outlets, among them EL PAÍS, to the company’s headquarters at Menlo Park, in the San Francisco suburb of Palo Alto. The occasion was an opportunity to see the personal side of Mark. The six journalists were allowed to photograph and film the encounter, but not to ask questions or participate.

Zuckerberg has said his priority for 2017 will be to get to know the United States better, traveling to the 30 or so states he still hasn’t visited. In all likelihood he won’t set foot outside the country, and won’t be kicking off his European tour by attending the Barcelona World Mobile Congress, as he usually does.

Without mentioning names, Zuckerberg referred to the current situation in the United States, saying: “There is a division in society the like of which hasn’t been seen for a long time. Not just in the United States, but in the whole world. That is why we want to generate community. On our 13th birthday, we want to bring families and friends together.”

Zuckerberg listened with his mouth half open, blinked a lot, and allowed people to finish their sentences

Zuckerberg said he wanted to get closer to the people who use Facebook on a daily basis, saying that another focus of 2017 would be to provide provide more and better tools to strengthen contact between groups with shared interests.

Facebook is also celebrating its 13th birthday by offering members ready-made (but editable) videos featuring photos of their friends, plus some new Messenger GIFs with friendship themes.

This explains why Facebook users are increasingly coming across suggestions for groups they can join or an option to create their own, which are available in prefabricated form, making it easier than ever.

The sixth-richest man in the world continues to wear a gray t-shirt that doesn’t suit him, worn-out jeans and sneakers. Zuckerberg says it means he doesn’t waste time thinking about what to put on. By having a routine he is able to focus on what is really important. For an hour he was focused solely on his guests: no phone, no notepad. The conversation took place in a meeting space designed like a living room, complete with rug and armchairs. At times, the encounter was in danger of turning into a focus group, and all that was missing were analysts on the other side of a one-way mirror.

Or maybe they were… Zuckerberg listened with his mouth half open, blinked a lot, and allowed people to finish their sentences. He then talked honestly. He recognized that he had a lot to learn from everybody else, that he didn’t want to lose touch with reality and asked for suggestions on how to improve the service. Mike García, a fishing aficionado from Austin, Texas, said he wanted a way to keep a group alive after a particular event has taken place.

Shanya Gill-Gray and Aricka Westbrooks, from Chicago, explained their need for a way to sell tickets without using third parties. The pair also wanted to be able to make group video calls on Facebook, instead of having to use Skype.

Terrorism and natural disasters also came up in the conversation. Zuckerberg’s guests said they appreciated the existence of a system within the social network to let friends and family know they are well, but said it needed to be more practical. “I understand. You don’t want to have to go from wall to wall checking, but instead just look within your group to see who is safe,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, the guests were rewarded with a small gift from their host indicating how he sees the future of the company: each is given a 360-degree Ricoh Theta camera that can be used to created content for Oculus, Zuckerberg’s virtual reality glasses.

“When my daughter took her first steps, I recorded it like this. And then I sent it to my parents. This camera is how you really capture and relive a moment,” he said before leaving to go back to his office, a glass cage in the middle of the building. He’s on view to everybody, something he accepts with humor: a sign reads, “Don’t feed the monkeys.”

English version by Nick Lyne.

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