NowPublic@SXSW2008: Zuckerberg Keynote Train Wreck
It finally happened. It is the flashpoint of the festival so far. It's everywhere. You can actually hear, see, and feel people talking, twittering, moblogging, yapping, snapping, and gossiping about it.
Yes, the event of the day today has been, without question, the train wreck of an hour that had promised to be Sarah Lacy's probing interview with Facebook CEO and web-prodigy Mark Zuckerberg.
To an assembled audience of thousands in the room, hundreds in satellite spaces on-site who received the live audio/video feed, and the countless others who tracked live updates, posts, streamed video, and minute-by-minute tweets, Mark Zuckerberg bravely sat and re-iterated his mission statement through a set of utterly banal, overly general and fawning pseudo-questions mixed with semi-flirtatious shlock that failed to yield anything of interest or of note.
Well, perhaps not anything, but certainly far far less than was expected and hoped for.
Or was this, perhaps, the outcome everyone had been hungering after?
Many, such as myself, had likely never seen or heard Zuckerberg speak other than in his defensive and robotic televised 60 Minutes interview several months ago. For them, as for me, the keynote offered a rare opportunity to get a more intimate, up close and personal sense of what both he, and his 15 billion dollar online "social utility", are really all about.
Instead, this is what we endured:
A number of the questions during the interview were set up by long preambles (sometimes referencing the interviewer's book), which Zuckerberg often responded to with one-word answers. At one point, when explaining why he had so little to say, he sputtered out "You have to ask questions." This prompted thunderous applause from the audience, both in the main room and in the spillover rooms.(Not editorializing on the quality of the interview; it's just what happened. Will try to upload a clip of that later. At the end from Zuckerberg: "I don't think this has been that painful."
Although Zuckerberg failed to shake his robot-corporate armour and really speak frankly or from the heart, he managed to fare far better than his interviewer, Sarah Lacy, who has been lambasted and attacked all across the Twitterverse:
Kind words are few and far between when it comes to Sarah Lacy's keynote interview with Mark Zuckerberg earlier today at the South by Southwest conference. The dozens and dozens of negative tweets started coming in shortly after the keynote started, and have only gotten harsher since then. Here's a selection:
- jonnygoldstein: did sarah lacey suck on purpose to make zuckerberg look good by comparison?
- JoynerEmily: so glad to be out of the zuckerberg keynote.....wow. train wreck. hopefully the afternoon will go better.
- brendathompson: Lacy's interview w/Zuckerberg truly embarassing (for her) and awkward (for him and for audience).
- ceonyc: Other potentially better interviewers: The MicroMachines Guy... Helen Keller... My nana (shes 90 and has never used a computer)
Of course, Robert Scoble chimed in, saying "I've never seen such a bad interview of someone on stage here. Totally disappointing."
From how the recently launched Facebook in Spanish has supposedly facilitated revolutionary networking and action in Columbia "against the guerilla armies" to how the site has somehow preposterously prevented loyal Lebanese users from becoming terrorists by allowing " them to develop a broader understanding of what's going on in the world"; Zuckerberg made broad and undefined claims about the relevance and importance of his product.
What he failed to do, however, was to repeat anything other than his mantra-like, mission catch phrases: we just trying to enable people to connect and communicate more efficiently.
Fair enough, but what about privacy concerns? What about data mining issues? What did Zuckerberg have to say about a developing a technology that has fundamentally changed the way we interact and is fast-approaching a level of global ubiquitousness?
Well, the conversation didn't really go there.
We learned that Facebook is launching tonight in France (and French). We learned there is no news on the Facebook music front, though some early inquiries have been made. We learned that as a $15 billion company, Facebook "doesn't necessarily focus on the financials". And we learned that Zuckerberg has voluntarily assumed, and seems to feel it necessary to embrace, the role of CEO, "to help [his] people keep their eye on the goal" which is, unsurprisingly to [insert mission statement here].
What is fascinating about the keynote, of course, is not the event itself, but its aftermath.
If Zuckerberg had been offered more substantive questions perhaps he would have offered more in-depth answers, which might have been satisfactory enough for the keynote to pass as midly interesting.
But that it was incomprehensibly boring, frustrating and annihilatingly self-serving/screwing on the part of Lacy (who we learned is writing a book on Zuckerberg that we can all pre-order on Amazon), made it worth something to everyone here, by giving them something to talk about
A quick search for "Zuckerberg" on Twitter search service Tweetscan reveals hundreds of posts written by those who witnessed the disastrous interview.
some more shouted remarks, Lacy turned the microphones over to the
members of the audience, challenging them to come up with better
questions. Attendees rushed to the microphones and got right to it,
asking Zuckerberg about privacy, data portability and requesting tools
to help manage the growing flood of information on their Facebook
Blogger Robert Scoble offered his observations over Twitter: "The audience is asking Zuckerburg better questions than Lacy did."
But the smell of the fresh kill still lingers.