David Kirkpatrick and The Facebook Effect – interview

Original audio and transcription of my interview with the US writer and journalist for his italian book tour.

This interview was published in italian form by Mondadori on

Here’s the original, unedited, recording, also available on Soundcloud:

And here’s my transcript of the interview, slightly edited and cleaned up:

Nicola D’Agostino: Who do you think are the most important people for the future of Facebook, except of course Mr. Zuckerberg?
David Kirkpatrick: Inside the company, you mean?

2011-06-01 18.28.43.jpgNDA: Yes, inside the company.
DK: Well, there’s several. I think Sheryl Sandberg obviously would come first because she has been so spectacularly successful at monetizing the business that Zuckerberg is focusing on from a product point of view. He doesn’t really think of changing the product in order to facilitate better monetization or more ads but he knows that [he can] just leave it to her. She’s doing a fantastic job and they say Facebook will have five billion in revenues this year and that’s her doing. She’s done a spectacular job. So Sheryl Sandberg would be number one.

I would say number two is probably Chris Cox who is Head of Product at Facebook, [and] who is a visionary on a level… he’s maybe only one level below Zuckerberg. He’s not as much of an entrepreneur, he’s more of an intellectual. He’s a big believer in [Marshall] McLuhan, he always talks about the Global Village. he’s the guy in charge of the product who works very closely withe Mark [Zuckerberg] so I think that’s a guy who’s very critical.

Then there’s a lot of other engineers, too numerous to mention by name but there are a number of senior engineers that are extremely important. Dan Rose is one of the few people who’s been there a really long time who’s also involved in a lot of the monetization effort, working for Sheryl. David Fischer who’s the Head of Advertising reporting to Sheryl: [he] came from Google and he’s extremely important. I think also Elliot Schrage who’s Head of Marketing and Communication and also came from Google where he had the same job and was brought over by Sheryl is another person who’s extremely important.

So those would be the ones I’d say are the most critical. They’ve been hiring amazingly good people.

NDA: How much has changed since your book came out?
DK: Well, the company has grown another three hundred million active users. That’s kind of amazing right there. I think also Facebook has become more deeply embedded in modern culture. I was sort of expecting and someway hoping it would happen, because that would make my book more relevant and I believe that it was likely, that’s why I spent the time writing the book, but you know, you never know and I think just in the last months there’s been three things that have happened that really sort of cement Facebook’s importance in the eyes of the world. The first one was the movie, which turned Zuckerberg into a celebrity. The second was Goldman Sachs declaring Facebook was worth such an amazing amount of money, fifty billion [of USA dollars] in January, which came as a shock to many people, although not to me. And it’s already trading over eighty billion on the private exchange.

NDA: Do you think the recent LinkedIn IPO helped to further grow the value of Facebook?
DK: Not really. I think it’s the other way around. I think the value of Facebook it’s what has caused LinkedIn to be even more valuable. But I just wanted to say that the third thing that really changed the perception of Facebook is what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and across the Arab world. Once people saw that Facebook played such a central role in countries they didn’t even know Facebook operated in and that it was actually helping to change the governments there, it made them realize that this thing I call “the Facebook Effect” is *really* significant.

NDA: Actually in the Italian version [the term] is not that prominent…
DK: I know, but I like the Italian title, because it’s really the history of Facebook as much as anything in the story of Mark Zuckerberg, so “Facebook – La storia” [Facebook – The History] is a very good title. […] And I also think that it’s a great cover, also, with the “Like” and Zuckerberg smiling. It’s nice to see him smiling.

NDA: Do you think that in the future there will be a revised edition of the book including the things…
DK: I hope so. I would like to revise it. American book publishers are not that eager to break open the… typescript, so to speak, so when I revised it for the paperback edition, which I did, I updated a lot of the numbers and I added some things about the Winklevosses and some things about the aims that came out from visiting (?)… I had to keep the page count exactly the same so that chapter 18 ended on page 320 and if I added new stuff in Chapter 18 it still had to end on page 320. I had to take things out if I was gonna put new things in. […] The point is [that] nobody has yet allowed me at Simon & Schuster to basically go and redo the book[…]. I think in the near future it’s gonna require essentially a rewrite because so many things have changed that I hope to do that within the next year… but the book business is so ridiculously slow, I have to say. It’s amazing how long it takes for anything to happen in the book business, it almost makes an author want to just publish anything.
But I will say, I think Hoepli has done a fantastic job in Italy: the cover [that] we were talking about, and also promoting it and taking it very seriously. I think it’s partly because in Italy Facebook is incredibly popular. I mean, it’s almost a 1:1 correspondence in Italy between who’s on the Internet and who’s on Facebook.

NDA: One could say that [in Italy] there’s probably more people on Facebook than on the Internet.
DK: How can that be? [laughter]
NDA: It’s technically impossible but [Facebook] is perceived not as a subset but as a…
DK: A superset?
NDA: Yeah, a superset, at least in the mindshare of italian people.
DK: [That’s] Because more people think of themselves as on Facebook as on the Internet. […] That suggests that a lot of people might want to read my book. I like that. [Laughter]

NDA: You told me about who are the most valuable people *inside* Facebook. What about the most dangerous for Facebook’s future? Not only people but also things.
DK: I would say there’s maybe three people I would select as sort of emblematic of the biggest threats to Facebook.

Number one would be definitely Google. I mean, Google still us the company that Facebook fears the most because it’s so wealthy and because as Eric Schmidt was saying at the D Conference […] they remain incredibly focused on solving their social problem. They know they screwed it up [and] they insist on finding a way to fix it and that worries Facebook.

The second one would probably be Neelie Kroes who is the Commissioner of the EU for the digital society. She is deeply committed to protect the privacy and identity rights of the citizens of Europe. And because Europe is really leading the world in terms of its regulation attitude towards the Internet… she’s not the only one but she’s emblematic. What happens in the EU is going to be very influential all around the world and I think one of the biggest threats Facebook faces is regulation. As more and more governments figure out that identity, which is a job that they thought it was always their responsibility and now has someways been done better by Facebook. […] Well, Facebook does a better job of tracking identity than passports do. And yet governments don’t know what to make of that. So that’s gonna be a challenge.

I think the third big one would be QQ Tencent, which is the biggest Internet and the biggest social network in China and Facebook knows -and Zuckerberg has made it very clear- they have to get into China to succeed, but one of the reasons it’s hard to get into China is that there’s already a very well-etablished group of chinese companies that are already doing very well. And QQ Tencent is the numer one company. There’s been talk that Facebook might partner with Baidu to get into China, but Tencent is the one it would have to beat. The thing about Tencent that’s especially interesting is not only what Facebook has to really succeed against it in China, but Tencent is attempting to expand outside of China. They already have investments in Vietnam, in India, in Russia and -through Russia- they have an investment in Digital Sky Technology which it means they own a piece of Facebook. […] China is a threat to Facebook in itself because Zuckerberg’s vision is that everyone on the planet should use Facebook. And he can’t get everyone on the planet if he doesn’t have the world’s largest Internet country. And as of now he hasn’t figured out how to do it, although he’s learning Mandarin, which is a very serious way to attempt to approach the problem…

NDA: Wasn’t [learning Mandarin] his last year’s project?
DK: It’s still this year’s project, too. He has multiple projects but you don’t learn Mandarin in one year. And I think he *will* learn. […] And he will probably figure out China.

NDA: From what you just told us, should we… imply that you see a lot of space for Facebook to grow?
DK: I think Facebook will keep growing but I think it gets harder and harder as it gets bigger and bigger and the issues become more and more global and the scale of the adversary is, like, Google, the EU, the biggest chinese Internet companies. These are big adversaries. These are not like, you know, Foursquare, or Twitter. These are much bigger obstacles that Facebook now has. Facebook is basically functioning at the level of the UN, practically. It has to operate and strategize on a global scale.

NDA: So Facebook is actually a multinational entity?
DK: It’s one of the most multinational business entities that has ever existed. I mean, it literally dominates the Internet in almost every country. […] Italy is not that unusual of a case. […] In indonesia everyone who’s on the Internet is on Facebook. And it’s like 50 million [people] there. It’s a truly global phenomenon that is not stopping yet.

NDA: Are you using Facebook a lot.
DK: I use it pretty much. I just posted a photograph from the bookstore here in Bologna on my Facebook page for the book, which is called The Facebook Effect (
NDA: Do you have a lot of fans?
DK: I have around fourteen thousand. […] Almost ten thousand on Twitter.

Pubblicato il 8/07/2011 e archiviato in: articoli  
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