Mark Zuckerberg Lays Out Facebook's Future


In the first major public speaking event since Facebook's (NAS: FB) controversial IPO, Mark Zuckerberg took the stage yesterday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. TechCrunch founder and interviewer Mike Arrington got right into it, immediately bringing up the stock's dismal performance since going public less than four months ago.

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Here are the important points Zuckerberg discussed throughout the interview.

Zuckerberg conceded that the cratering stock price has "obviously been disappointing," but then again who wouldn't consider a nearly 50% loss disappointing? Given that he's the proud owner of 444 million Class B shares and options on an additional 60 million shares, you can bet that's a touchy subject, especially as that means his net worth has likewise plunged from $19 billion to "just" $10 billion. Poor guy.

Mobile money
There's been no shortage of having the press point out that mobile has long been one of Facebook's historical weaknesses, but Zuckerberg made it clear that we're not seeing a major shift in the company's business.

He called it one of the biggest things that consumers and investors "fundamentally" misunderstand about Facebook, and that better mobile advertising will translate into more money -- more than on the desktop advertising platform.

Facebook's biggest mistake
He also conceded that the company fumbled on HTML5:

The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5, because it's just not there yet. We went for this approach, an internal framework called Faceweb. We just couldn't translate it to mobile with the quality we wanted.

We had to start over and rewrite everything to be native. We burned two years. It may turn out it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, strategic mistake we made.

Two years ago, we decided to bet completely on HTML5. We believed that because it used the same technology as the desktop, we thought it could improve. But it wasn't good enough. We realized the only way we could get there was to go native.

Source: Forbes.

He's referring to having to rebuild the Apple (NAS: AAPL) iOS Facebook app from scratch, after years of user complaints about sluggishness and performance issues because the app wasn't written in iOS's native language. It was effectively an HTML5 Web app bundled into an app, and the performance was subpar at best. The new native app looks identical but is literally twice as fast thanks to the under-the-hood switch.

Zuckerberg also said the company is working on a native app for Google (NAS: GOOG) Android.

The Facebook phone is dead
Reiterating the point that the rumored Facebook phone is a terrible, terrible idea, Zuckerberg acknowledged that it's "so clearly the wrong strategy for us." He said if you look at Facebook's 950 million-some-odd users, getting maybe 10 million to 20 million on a first-party device would be meaningless.

Instead, Facebook is more interested in getting on all existing devices, so it's focusing its development efforts on three mobile platforms: mobile Web, iOS, and Android. The partnership with Apple in getting Facebook directly integrated into iOS is a big score on this front.

Watch out, Google
In a clear battle cry aimed at Big G, Zuckerberg even discussed the very distinct possibility of entering the search business. Wait, scratch that. It's not just a "possibility" -- Facebook is already working on it. The social network currently runs roughly a billion queries a day, and it's "not even trying." Right now these are mostly things like trying to find certain people or maybe looking for a brand's commercial page to "like."

Zuckerberg sees search evolving in a way that provides user-specific answers to social questions such as what kind of restaurants someone's friends might like. "Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have," he said, "At some point we'll do it. We have a team working on it."

Don't forget that Facebook has good ties with Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) , another Google enemy, which invested in the company in its earlier days. Bing also powers the Web search results served up through the top search bar on Facebook's site.

Dethroning Google seems a nearly insurmountable task, but Zuckerberg sounds up for the challenge.

A new Zuckerberg?
Interestingly, it appears that Zuckerberg has matured a lot in the short time since Facebook went public. Humbly acknowledging Facebook's past mistakes, discarding the rhetoric of "we don't care about money" that simply doesn't work for a publicly traded company, and displaying confidence and insight into important strategic decisions facing Facebook in the years ahead.

Shares rallied nearly 5% after hours on his comments, so investors are clearly pleased with what they heard overall, and you know what? I was too. I've always seen a lot of potential in the company, and it continues to inch closer to a point where I'd consider investing.

Until then, read my complete write-up on the social network's business, including the key metrics I'm keeping an eye on that will help determine if I think it's time to buy. Sign up today and get free updates for a year included at no additional cost.

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