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Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook Home, Money, and the Future of Communication

by Steven Levy, Wired.com  |  published on April 8, 2013

As caretaker of a service with a billion users, Mark Zuckerberg is used to sparking protest. Any time his company releases a new product, adjusts a privacy setting, or even tweaks the design, thousands of outraged Facebookers take to the Web to decry the change. So Zuckerberg can expect to hear sirens today, as he announces Home, Facebook’s most dramatic response to the pivot from desktop and web to phones and tablets. New paradigms like mobile can be the ill winds that blow down card-houses of tech dominance, and to maintain its status as the alpha social network, Facebook must get this right.

First, what it’s not: Home isn’t the long-rumored Facebook Phone. That was always a red herring. Instead, Home turns your phone into a Facebook device. Even with the lock screen on, a photo stream of your friends’ activities fills the screen. Updates appear on your home screen, too. What’s more, Home makes Facebook the primary means of communication on your device. The company’s messaging software merges with SMS, and you can continue using its “chat heads” to text while inside another app. Zuckerberg believes that the social network plays too big a role in its users lives to be drowned out by a vast sea of apps. “Apps aren’t the center of the world,” he says. “People are.”

Home does put people—your people—front and center. And Zuckerberg is probably hoping that most users choose it over the standard Facebook app. The catch is that not everyone can participate, even if they want to. At launch, Home is limited to a few Android phones; iPhone users are shut out. Apple enforces its own look and feel, and allowing a developer to take over the lockdown screen is currently unimaginable.

But there are plenty of things that were once unimaginable that have come to pass. One of them is the personal evolution of Facebook’s CEO. Accounts of Zuckerberg’s early years as a founder paint him as callow. But in recent appearances—and interviews like this one—he has been articulate, engaging, and at ease. Clearly Zuckerberg is at home at Facebook. Now his task is to make us all feel that way.

What led to your building Facebook Home?
Facebook occupies an interesting space in mobile. We’re not an operating system, but we’re not just an app either. Facebook accounts for 23 percent of the time people spend on smartphones. The next-biggest ones are Instagram and Google Maps, which are each at 3 percent. For the past 18 months, we spent our efforts building good versions of Facebook’s mobile apps. But the design was still very close to what we have on the desktop. We knew that we could do better.

Why not just build a phone?
I’ve always been very clear that I don’t think that’s the right strategy. We’re a community of a billion-plus people, and the best-selling phones—apart from the iPhone—can sell 10, 20 million. If we did build a phone, we’d only reach 1 or 2 percent of our users. That doesn’t do anything awesome for us. We wanted to turn as many phones as possible into “Facebook phones.” That’s what Facebook Home is.

It’s only available on Android phones. Isn’t it ironic that your mobile strategy is now tied to Google’s operating system?
We have a pretty good partnership with Apple, but they want to own the whole experience themselves. There aren’t a lot of bridges between us and Google, but we are aligned with their open philosophy.

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