Zuckerberg talks Facebook Messages, mistakes, social revolution

The revolution will not stop at e-mail -- in the future, nearly every company will be more social, Facebook CEO tells Web 2.0 Summit

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg says that in the future, messaging will be much more simple than today's e-mail.

Zuckerberg took on the topic of Facebook's new messaging system in a wide-ranging on-stage interview at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco Tuesday evening.

In his discussion with John Battelle, the founder of Federated Media, Zuckerberg also talked about the company's data portability squabble with Google, a potential IPO, mistakes he's made and the social networking revolution.

"SMS and IMs are so much simpler than e-mail," Zuckerberg said. "You don't have to remember an address or pick a subject line or say, 'Hey, Mom' at the beginning or 'Love, Mark' at the end. Messaging in the future will resemble that a lot more. It's just more natural."

Zuckerberg's remarks come just one day after he announced that Facebook is launching Facebook Messages. The system is set up to handle the convergence of different kinds of messages -- e-mail, IM, SMS and Facebook messages -- and bring them together under one social umbrella. (See our visual tour of Facebook Messages.)

While rumors had been flying across the Internet that Facebook was unveiling an "e-mail killer," the new system will actually just incorporate e-mail. But Zuckerberg said that today's e-mail is just too cumbersome and that younger users are forgoing it for faster, simpler communication options.

"When we got started on building a messages product, we got rid of subject lines and the divides between IMs and messages on Facebook," he added. "You can send simple messages, and they'll pop up to people where ever they are."

Data portability

When Battelle moved on to ask Zuckerberg about Facebook's spat with Google over the issue of data portability, Zuckerberg defended Facebook as an "open" network but also said that it's a complicated issue and he's not sure they've got it figured out.

Google and Facebook, which are increasingly competing, have been engaged in a war of words the past few weeks over data portability. The issue boils down to the ability to move user data back and forth between Web services, such as Google's Gmail and Facebook.

Facebook doesn't make it easy for users to move their information out, and Google has been venting its frustration with that.

"The view there is that everyone owns their own information and has the ability to export it. If you want, you can download all that in a .zip file," Zuckerberg said. "E-mails are different than a social network. If you think about it, your e-mail information is clearly yours.

"Maybe a photo that I took and tagged you in is more in the [gray area]. I'm not sure we're 100% right on this. We're trying to think through these things and be respectful," he added.

A social revolution

In another part of the interview, Zuckerberg said he envisions a future where there are a lot of social networks that people are actively involved in.

"Long term, if you buy my vision for the next five years, the vast majority of the social ecosystem will not be Facebook, but we'll work with them," he said. "If we do that, we'll be enabling. That's the bigger long-term opportunity. The biggest part of this has to be uncharted territory."

Zuckerberg said we're all in the middle of a revolution where nearly every company will begin to be more social.

"Humans are hard-wired to be interested in people," Zuckerberg said. "I think that over the next five years, most industries will get rethought to be designed around social. It'll be a revolution."

Mistakes made

Zuckerberg acknowledged that he's made a lot of mistakes with his company over the years.

"Oh man, I've made so many mistakes running a company so far," he said in response to an audience question about being a young entrepreneur. "If you can think of a mistake, I've probably made it or will in the next few years.

"The Facebook story is an example of if you're building a product that people love, you can make a lot of mistakes," Zuckerberg said. "I think the lesson is that you should focus on building something that people like and is valuable."

When asked about when he'll be taking Facebook public, Zuckerberg replied, "Don't hold your breath."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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