You might wonder what in the world could bring the Harvard dropout and under-30 founder of Facebook together with the 77-year-old conservative Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to talk to students and attendees at Brigham Young University earlier today.
I’m still trying to figure that out myself, despite having attended the event.
Overall, it was fairly interesting, the crowd seemed to enjoy it, but many were there for the “Social Network” guy, thinking he was just like the character in the movie – those people, I believe, were surprised by his cheerful demeanor. I was there to see what Zuck said about privacy, technology.
Senator Hatch, who apparently acts as chair of the U.S. Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, invited the typically shy Zuckerberg to speak to a crowd of nearly 10,000 in the university’s Marriott Event Center to talk about technology and policy.
For his first time speaking to such a large crowd, and first time ever speaking at a college or university event, he admitted he was a little nervous, but settled in quickly and seemed pretty comfortable for most of the interview, not withstanding a few awkward moments.
Senator & Social Network Founder Talk Shop?
When this event was announced two weeks ago, BYU requested questions to be submitted via their official Facebook page (of course!), resulting in about 450 possible questions.
Senator Hatch probably asked Zuckerberg less than 10 questions in the 45 minute discussion, but by the second question, Mark turned the tables on him — “Do I get to ask you questions, too?”
The first question Zuckerberg asked the Senator revolved around government’s role in business, particularly with respect to regulation. Mark asked Hatch, “How does the government see the evolution of the Internet and technology – what do you think the government can do to encourage startups?”
Senator Hatch quickly responded with, “probably the best thing would be for us to stay out of the way”, and that he “personally prefers keeping innovation alive,” as opposed to overly regulating. He was quick to say that in some cases, regulation is necessary of course, but in most, it’s better to stay out of the way.
Overall, most of the conversation was light-hearted, and a couple other attempts by Zuckerberg to pump the the Senator for answers were quickly deflected by Hatch: “I’m sure they (the audience) are much more interested in what you have to say”.
Privacy, Policy, Innovation & Social Networking’s Future
A couple points in the discussion more interesting to the business attendees than the students, might include Zuckerberg’s suggestion that many startups could come challenge the social network and similar technologies at any time, by simply being focused on building something better in an open environment:
“We believe there will be much better services for all the people who use Facebook if millions of people around the world can develop those services. A good independent entrepreneur should always be able to do something better than a division of a company.”
On the topic of privacy and safety issues, Zuckerberg was very firm in all his responses, starting with “If you go back 10 years, people were very afraid of sharing anything on the Internet,” boldly stating that people became more comfortable with Facebook because “we have extremely robust privacy controls…. We are really focused on safety, especially on children’s safety.”
When Hatch asked him what the key role of social media technology was with respect to dealing with some of our most important issues, Zuckerberg probably missed the mark slightly by not talking about the way social media can raise instant awareness for key topics (someone behind me shouted out “Egypt”) or money for natural disaster relief, but he did speak vaguely about “grassroots connectivity”, and that “information about businesses or governance issues can be spread through society much more easily”.
He pointed out that one developer at Facebook created Peace.Facebook.com, where the site tracks and measures friendships being formed around the world, and that is interesting to him because of the relationships developing between people in countries historically divided by politics or wars.
“Empathy is develooping in the world who otherwise may not have had an ability to connect, we ARE all connected, we just don’t fully understand it yet.” - Mark Zuckerberg
On the topic of Facebook advertising, Senator Hatch tried to appeal to the young crowd – “Are you worried that Ads will take away from Facebook’s coolness?”
Mark: I think everyone likes the service being free. (wild applause and cheers)
He continued, “that’s the bare minimum of how you need to think about ads; that’s the way you can use the service without paying for it. We don’t sell your information, people trust us, so that’s important for us.”
He really spent a fair amount of time talking about the “misconception” that advertisers can access your personal information, but rather, that Facebook does the targeting based on advertiser selection.
(Admittedly, that’s a raw, very broad view of FB advertising – but remember who the audience is.)
Also of particular interest to online marketers might be this video clip from the BYU appearance in which Mark Zuckerberg speaks about how businesses are now using the Internet to interact with consumers instead of hide, and suggests that the dynamic between the two will become even more open:
We learned that Zuckerberg is going to be a dad! (Or so we thought we heard him say at one point, that his long-time girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, is pregnant – she’s not, we learned when trying to confirm whether he said that, or that she’s ‘preparing to be a pediatrician’ – she’s also in medical school in the Bay Area.)
He did say their dinner conversation of late has been regarding the future of education, particularly with regards to Math, Sciences and Technology disciplines.
This prompted an interesting bit of back and forth on government’s role in improving national education.
Live tweets contained some other interesting sound bites, but they weren’t really well organized under a single hashtag, although not surprising that they didn’t ask everyone to use the same one – but some of the more popular ones are: #Zuckerberg, #ZuckUT , #FBforum & #BYU.
Attendance was free, so many members of the Utah technology crowd attended — including employees and executives from Adobe/Omniture and several recognizable SEO agencies (SEO.com, BlueGlass.com co-founder & SEL Contributor Jordan Kasteler) as well as other e-commerce and social media players, bloggers, marketing firms and Internet entrepreneurs based here in Utah, or as we like to say, the “Silicon Slopes”. Look for all their tweets from the event in the above hashtags.
Passion = Success
Since the audience was mainly college students, a lot of the discussion centered around how Facebook and Zuckerberg became so successful, and Hatch asked what could the students learn from his experience – prompting a wild applause when Mark started with, “So, I wasn’t in school for that long…” before he talked about what he did learn as both a Computer Science and Psychology Major taking highly theoretical and practical tech courses.
Mark’s advice to budding entrepreneurs: “you really have to love and believe in what you’re doing, that’s the most important thing…if you don’t, it becomes an irrational thing you’re doing”.
Hatch: “You didn’t even graduate from Harvard and yet, you’re running one of the most important agencies in the world…you’re brilliant and your passion drives you”.
Zuckerberg also brought along three BYU alumni who currently work at Facebook, and Hatch later asked what they look for in potential employees.
Zuckerberg said they mainly “look for people who are passion about something – in a way, it doesn’t matter what you are passion about, we cover a lot of different things, make a lot of products. We look at what you took the initiative to build or take on on your own”.
“We don’t want people to work at Facebook because of what it already is, but because they want Facebook to become something else / what they think it should be.”