CES 2008–for me, it’s about Facebook

I’m in Las Vegas for CES 2008. Last night on my drive from Provo I listened to some podcasts in the Stanford Entrepreneur Lecture Series. (You can download them for free from iTunes or from Stanford’s web site.) The most interesting was Mark Zuckerberg’s talk 2 years ago when Facebook had 5 million users and was still limited to authenticated college students and invited high school students. It was growing by 20,000 member per day, was generating $1 million per month in revenue, was cash flow positive, had taken money from Accel by then, and had more page views already than Google. Mark said the key metric he looked at most was the percentage of his users who used the service every day.

The most interesting moment was during the Q&A where a Stanford student asked if Mark (and Jim Breyer, a board member and VC who was also there) had thought about opening up Facebook (which Mark had been arguing was an online directory utility, not a social network) to other developers and turning it into a platform. Mark’s answer was immediately: yes, and if you have experience coding operating systems, etc, then come and help me do it.

So that was a long time ago, in internet years. Mark had just turned 21. This was 2 years before the May 2007 official launch of Facebook Platform, that Mark indicated that Facebook wanted to be open to third party development.

I also listened (for the second time) to Marissa Mayer’s lecture on nine ways that Google fosters innovation and creativity. She joined Google in 1998 and has managed its consumer search business for years. This is a fantastic lecture. She describes the 20% time at Google and how it works in practice. She indicated that in one recent six month period, 50% of the new products launched at Google resulted from employee 20% time. The most interesting moment for me was her description of a 3 am brainstorm session back in about 1999 when a bunch of developers were staying late to lend support to Harry, the sole guy in charge of running the 3-4 day web crawl updates using 500+ command line commands, and during a brainstorm at that time they came up with what is now Google Book Search–the idea of scanning all the books in the world. She describes the magical moment that it was for all of these early employees at Google, but then she indicated that Google continues to recruit people who want to change the world and that creative moments like this continue to happen every day or night at Google around the pool table as incredibly bright people try to imagine what Google could possibly do next.

So now I’m finalizing my plans for today using the excellent My CES online planning tool. It’s definitely the best online experience I’ve ever had looking for speakers, companies, exhibitors, and products that I want to learn about.

Facebook, it appears, has a booth at the Sands/Venetian, and they have about 20 employees registered to be here this week. This is a bit surprising since the major search engines and web sites don’t usually exhibit at CES, although they participate in keynotes and on panels. I’m very curious to see if this is really a booth or just a meeting room.

I’m hoping to meet up with some other Facebook developers and thought leaders today or tomorrow. Our first Facebook app We’re Related now has 2 million users (our press release announcing this should hit today.) Since our company’s mission is to creative innovative tools for connecting families, we intend to develop apps for other social networks and to create widgets that operate on major web sites (like Google and Yahoo) and on mobile devices, that will help family members communicate and share information with each other. Yahoo made a big annoucement yesterday at CES about Yahoo Life! which apparently will allow third-party developers to create widgets that can be utilized in the new combined search portal/social network platform that Yahoo is building by combining its key tools into one user experience. I don’t quite understand it all yet (I wish I had seen it in person), but my main interest is in figuring out how we can deliver utility to families who are using any major web site. The more open large companies are to third party development, the more likely we are to focus on creating value for their users rather than trying to build destination web sites ourselves.

Before I head over to the first keynote, I’m going to use LinkedIn to attempt contact with 6-8 people in the social networking industry that I hope to meet tonight or tomorrow at the show, and see how it goes. When I travel I can’t believe how useful LinkedIn is in getting last minute meetings set up.

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