Recently about 100 people gathered around a giant screen at Facebook’s Building 17 to witness its global user counter surpass the one billion mark. While the number is a bit of a cipher, insofar as the figure is actually just a statistical calculation, it is notable for the speed of growth and scaling accomplished by this one, formerly small, firm.
At Facebook HQ, after a round of high-fives, people went back to work as usual. After all, they’re a culture of builders who follow founder Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of “move fast, break things.”
In fact, at Facebook, they move so fast that it’s a good bet you didn’t know that the live site is worked on by trainees who haven’t yet finished their six week indoctrination. Or that every now and then, the entire site crashes. Or that when new features are released, they’ll ‘test’ on about 2% of the site (that’s still millions of users). Or that Facebook essentially “redoes” its site once day, usually around 4:30 west coast time.
Often, hundreds, even thousands of new bits of code are ‘pushed’ to the site each day. This is not bridge building of the 20th century, with care and redundancy built in. This is build fast, fix quickly, ask questions later. Or as Zuckerberg calls it, move fast, break things.
And this is the commerce, or more precisely the e-commerce, of the 21st century.
Not to be cavalier, Facebook has created programs to analyze code before its released to judge its likelihood of breaking something. And Zuckerberg himself notes that as the firm has matured, “we’ve focused a little less on the ‘break things’ part of the mantra. After all, he notes, “it is possible to make so many mistakes that you’re actually moving slower because you’re spending more time fixing mistakes.”
That’s a good thing, as Facebook has grown from 600 employees in 2008 to about 4,000 today, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The company’s goals have grown along with it. Once content to be a directory of college kids, today’s Facebook seeks to do nothing less than “map out the graph of everything in the world, and how it relates to each other” according to one of the firm’s top engineers (quoted in the same article of the Oct. 8th issue). Facebook is out to record every film, song and book a person has ever consumed and then build a model of other things that person could enjoy.
And therein lays infinite advertising possibilities. When Facebook knows you, your friends, your likes and dislikes, your location… that’s information advertisers will pay dearly to get, as they gladly ‘guide’ you to their products while you interact with your friends. Creepy or helpful? That’s for you – and a billion other people – to decide.